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Fernando Correa, Manuel L Wolfson, Paula Valchi, Julieta Aisemberg, and Ana María Franchi

The endocannabinoid system (eCS), is a complex system, comprising the main endogenous ligands anandamide and 2-arachidonoyl glycerol, the cannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2 and the biosynthetic and degrading enzymes. Cumulative evidence shows that the eCS plays an important role in reproduction, from egg fertilization to parturition. Therefore, alterations in this system, either by recreation/therapeutic use of cannabis or deregulation of the endogenous cannabinoids, might lead to adverse pregnancy outcomes, including retardation in embryo development, poor blastocyst implantation, inhibition of decidualization, miscarriage and compromised placentation. Nevertheless, the molecular mechanisms by which the eCS participates in different stages of pregnancy remain poorly understood. In this review, we will examine the evidence from animal and human studies to support the role of the eCS in implantation, early-to-late pregnancy and placentation as well as the difficulties of targeting this system for treatment of female infertility.

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Julieta Aisemberg, María V Bariani, Claudia A Vercelli, Manuel L Wolfson, and Ana M Franchi

The initial inactivation of prostaglandins (PGs) is mediated by 15-hydroxyprostaglandin dehydrogenase (15-PGDH). PGs are potent mediators of several biological processes, including inflammation and reproduction. In uterus, PGs play a key role in infection-induced pregnancy loss, in which concentration of this mediator increased. This process is accompanied with the induction of nitric oxide synthase expression and a marked increase in uterine levels of nitric oxide. There is no information concerning nitric oxide contribution to potential changes in PG catabolism, but experimental evidence suggests that nitric oxide modulates PG pathways. The specific objectives of the study were to evaluate the protein expression of HPGD (15-PGDH) and to characterize the nitric oxide-dependent regulation of this enzyme in a model of lipopolysaccharide (LPS)-induced embryonic resorption. Results show that LPS decreased HPGD protein expression and augmented PGE synthase activity; therefore, PGE2 levels increased in uterus in this inflammatory condition. Just as LPS, the treatment with a nitric oxide donor diminished HPGD protein expression in uterine tissue. In contrast, the inhibition of nitric oxide synthesis both in control and in LPS-treated mice increased 15-PGDH levels. Also, we have found that this enzyme and PGE2 levels are not modulated by peroxynitrite, an oxidant agent derived from nitric oxide. This study suggests that LPS and nitric oxide promote a decrease in the ability of the uterus for PG catabolism during bacterially triggered pregnancy loss in mice.

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Valeria Roca, Mario Calafat, Luciana Larocca, Rosanna Ramhorst, Mariana Farina, Ana Maria Franchi, and Claudia Pérez Leirós

Among several factors known to modulate embryo implantation and survival, uterine quiescence and neovascularization, maternal immunotolerance through the Th1/Th2 cytokine balance towards a Th2 profile, local regulatory T-cell (Treg) activation, and high levels of progesterone were assigned a prominent role. Vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP) is a neuroimmunopeptide that has anti-inflammatory effects, promotes Th2 cytokines and CD4+CD25+FOXP3+ Treg activation, and stimulates exocrine secretion, smooth muscle relaxation, and vasodilatation favoring uterus quiescence. The goal of the present work was to explore the participation of VIP in the implantation sites of normal and pregnant prediabetic nonobese diabetic (NOD) females, a mouse strain that spontaneously develops an autoimmune exocrinopathy similar to Sjögren's syndrome. Our results indicate a reduction in litter size from the third parturition onwards in the NOD female lifespan with increased resorption rates. Progesterone systemic levels were significantly decreased in pregnant NOD mice compared with BALB/c mice, although the allogeneic response to progesterone by spleen cells was not impaired. VIP receptors, Vipr1 and Vipr2 (Vpac1 and Vpac2), were expressed at the implantation sites and VIP induced leukemia inhibitory factor (LIF) and Treg marker expression in both strains; however, a reduced Vip expression was found in NOD implantation sites. We conclude that the reduced birth rate at 16-week-old NOD mice with a Th1 systemic cytokine profile involves resorption processes with a lower expression of VIP at the sites of implantation, which acts as a local inducer of pro-implantatory LIF and Treg activation.

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María Victoria Bariani, Ana Paula Domínguez Rubio, Maximiliano Cella, Juliana Burdet, Ana María Franchi, and Julieta Aisemberg

Prematurity is the leading cause of perinatal morbidity and mortality worldwide. There is a strong causal relationship between infection and preterm births. Intrauterine infection elicits an immune response involving the release of inflammatory mediators like cytokines and prostaglandins (PG) that trigger uterine contractions and parturition events. Anandamide (AEA) is an endogenous ligand for the cannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2. Similarly to PG, endocannabinoids are implicated in different aspects of reproduction, such as maintenance of pregnancy and parturition. Little is known about the involvement of endocannabinoids on the onset of labor in an infectious milieu. Here, using a mouse model of preterm labor induced by lipopolysaccharide (LPS), we explored changes on the expression of components of endocannabinoid system (ECS). We have also determined whether AEA and CB antagonists alter PG production that induces labor. We observed an increase in uterine N-acylphosphatidylethanolamine-specific phospholipase D expression (NAPE-PLD, the enzyme that synthesizes AEA) upon LPS treatment. Activity of catabolic enzyme fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) did not change significantly. In addition, we also found that LPS modulated uterine cannabinoid receptors expression by downregulating Cb2 mRNA levels and upregulating CB1 protein expression. Furthermore, LPS and AEA induced PGF2a augmentation, and this was reversed by antagonizing CB1 receptor. Collectively, our results suggest that ECS may be involved in the mechanism by which infection causes preterm birth.

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María Gracia Gervasi, Maximiliano Rapanelli, María Laura Ribeiro, Mariana Farina, Silvia Billi, Ana María Franchi, and Silvina Perez Martinez

Anandamide binds to cannabinoid receptors and plays several central and peripheral functions. The aim of this work was to study the possible role for this endocannabinoid in controlling sperm–oviduct interaction in mammals. We observed that bull sperm and bovine oviductal epithelial cells express cannabinoid receptors, CB1 and CB2, and fatty acid amide hydrolase, the enzyme that controls intracellular anandamide levels. A quantitative assay to determine whether anandamide was involved in bovine sperm–oviduct interaction was developed. R(+)-methanandamide, a non-hydrolysable anandamide analog, inhibited sperm binding to and induced sperm release from oviductal epithelia. Selective CB1 antagonists (SR141716A or AM251) completely blocked R(+)-methanandamide effects. However, SR144528, a selective CB2 antagonist, did not exert any effect, indicating that only CB1 was involved in R(+)-methanandamide effect. This effect was not caused by inhibition of the sperm progressive motility or by induction of the acrosome reaction. Overall, our findings indicate for the first time that the endocannabinoid system is present in bovine sperm and oviductal epithelium and that anandamide modulates the sperm–oviduct interaction, by inhibition of sperm binding and induction of sperm release from oviductal epithelial cells, probably by activating CB1 receptors.

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Mariana Gabriela Farina, Silvia Billi, Gustavo Leguizamón, Carina Weissmann, Tamara Guadagnoli, Maria Laura Ribeiro, and Ana Maria Franchi

The release of arachidonic acid from membrane glycerophospholipids through the action of phospholipases (PLs) is the first step in the biosynthesis of prostaglandins (PGs). In reproductive tissues, the most important PLs are cytosolic PLA2 (cPLA2) and types IIA and V of the secretory isoform (sPLA2). The aim of this work was to investigate the role of ovarian steroid hormones and oxytocin (OT) in the regulation of rat uterine PLA2 activity and expression during pregnancy and labor. The activity of sPLA2 increased near labor, whereas cPLA2 activity augmented towards the end of gestation. The levels of sPLA2 IIA and cPLA2 mRNA showed an increase before labor (P<0.05, day 21), whereas sPLA2 V mRNA was not regulated during pregnancy. The administration of atosiban (synthetic OT antagonist) together with tamoxifen (antagonist of estrogen receptors) was able to decrease cytosolic and secretory PLA2 activities, diminish the expression of sPLA2 IIA and cPLA2, as well as decrease PGF production before the onset of labor (P<0.01). The ovarian steroid did not affect PLA2 during pregnancy. Collectively, these findings indicate that in the rat uterus, both 17β-estradiol and OT could be regulating the activity and the expression of the secretory and the cytosolic isoforms of PLA2, thus controlling PGF synthesis prior to the onset of labor.

Free access

Fernanda L de la Cruz Borthiry, Julieta A Schander, Maximiliano Cella, Jimena S Beltrame, Ana María Franchi, and María L Ribeiro

Implantation-related events are crucial for pregnancy success. In particular, defects in vascular remodeling at the maternal–fetal interface are associated with spontaneous miscarriage and recurrent pregnancy loss. Physical activity and therapies oriented to reduce stress improve pregnancy outcomes. In animal models, environmental stimulation and enrichment are associated with enhanced well-being, cognitive function and stress resilience. Here, we studied whether the exposure of BALB/c mice to an enriched environment (EE) regulates crucial events during early gestation at the maternal–fetal interface. Pregnant BALB/c mice were exposed to the EE that combines non-invasive stimuli from the sensory pathway with voluntary physical activity. The pregnancy rate was evaluated. Implantation sites were investigated microscopically and macroscopically. Vascular adaptation parameters at the maternal–fetal interface were analyzed. We found that exposure to the EE prevented pregnancy loss between gestational days 7 and 15. Also, it increased the diameter of the uterine artery and decreased the wall:lumen ratio of the mesometrial decidual vessels, suggesting that EE exposure promotes vascular remodeling. Moreover, it increased nitric oxide synthase activity and inducible nitric oxide synthase expression, as well as prostaglandin F2a production and endoglin expression in the implantation sites. Exposure of pregnant females to the EE regulates uterine physiology, promoting vascular remodeling during early gestation. These adaptations might contribute to preventing embryo loss. Our results highlight the importance of the maternal environment for pregnancy success. The design of an ‘EE-like’ protocol for humans could be considered as a new non-pharmacologic strategy to prevent implantation failure and recurrent miscarriage.

Free access

Julieta Aylen Schander, Julieta Aisemberg, Fernando Correa, Manuel Luis Wolfson, Lorena Juriol, Cora Cymeryng, Federico Jensen, and Ana María Franchi

Maternal lifestyle affects both mother health and pregnancy outcome in humans. Several studies have demonstrated that interventions oriented toward reducing stress and anxiety have positive effects on pregnancy complications such as preeclampsia, excessive gestational weight, gestational diabetes and preterm birth. In this work, we showed that the environmental enrichment (EE), defined as a noninvasive and biologically significant stimulus of the sensory pathway combined with voluntary physical activity, prevented preterm birth (PTB) rate by 40% in an inflammatory mouse model induced by the systemic administration of bacterial lipopolysaccharide (LPS). Furthermore, we found that EE modulates maternal metabolism and produces an anti-inflammatory environment that contributes to pregnancy maintenance. In pregnant mice uterus, EE reduces the expression of TLR4 and CD14 (the LPS receptor and its coactivator protein), preventing the LPS-induced increase in PGE2 and PGF2α release and nitric oxide synthase (NOS) activity. In cervical tissue, EE inhibits cervical ripening events, such as PGE2 release, matrix metalloproteinase (MMP)-9 increased activity and neutrophil recruitment, therefore conserving cervical function. It seems that EE exposure could mimic the stress and anxiety-reducing techniques mentioned above, explaining, at least partially, the beneficial effects of having a healthy lifestyle before and during gestation. Furthermore, we propose that designing an EE protocol for humans could be a noninvasive and preventive therapy for pregnancy complications, averting pre-term birth occurrence and dreaded sequelae that are present in the offspring born too soon.