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  • Author: C L O’Neill x
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X L Jin and C O'Neill

The co-expression of the CREB and ATF1 transcription factors is required for the development of preimplantation embryos. Embryotropin-mediated, calcium/calmodulin-dependent signalling activates CREB-induced transcription in the two-cell embryo, but the regulation of ATF1 in the embryo is not known. This study demonstrates that ATF1 begins to accumulate within both pronuclei of the mouse zygote by 20 h post-human chorionic gonadotrophin. This did not require new transcription (not blocked by α-amanitin), but was dependent upon protein synthesis (blocked by puromycin) and the activity of P38 MAP kinase. ATF1 becomes an active transcription factor upon being phosphorylated. A marked accumulation of phosphorylated ATF1 was evident in two-cell embryos and this persisted in subsequent stages of development. This phosphorylation was enhanced by the actions of autocrine embryotropic mediators (including Paf) and required the mutual actions of P38 MAP kinase and calmodulin-dependent pathways for maximum levels of phosphorylation. The combined inhibition of these two pathways blocked embryonic genome activation (EGA) and caused embryos to enter a developmental block at the two-cell stage. The members of the CREB family of transcription factors can generate one of the most diverse transcriptomes of any transcription factor. The demonstration of the presence of activated CREB and ATF1 within the embryonic nucleus at the time of EGA places these transcription factors as priority targets as key regulators of EGA.

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X L Jin and C O’Neill

Gene expression from the new embryonic genome is required for normal preimplantation embryo development. Two members of the cAMP-responsive element-binding protein (Creb) family of transcription factors, Creb1 and activating transcription factor 1 (Atf1), are essential for normal preimplantation development. These transcription factors are activated by phosphorylation. Creb1 mRNA was expressed throughout the preimplantation phase. Cytoplasmic immunolocalization of Creb1 was detected in all preimplantation embryo stages. The antigen was largely excluded from the pronuclei/nuclei at embryonic stages except in the mid-cycle two-cell and compacted eight-cell embryo. Activation-state-specific antibodies showed serine 133 phosphorylated Creb1 localization was similar to Creb1 staining, except that there was no increase in staining at the eight-cell stage. Increased staining of phosphorylated Creb1 was observed in the nucleus of mid-cycle two-cell embryos. Increased expression of phosphorylated Creb1 in the two-cell embryo was induced by brief exposure of embryos to ionomycin, but not by a dibutyryl cAMP. This was blocked by buffering intracellular calcium with 1,2-bis(2-aminophenoxy)ethane-N,N,N′,N′-tetraacetic acid tetrakis (acetoxymethyl ester), but not by a cAMP antagonist, Rp-cyclic 3′,5′-hydrogen phosphorothioate adenosine. Calmodulin is an intracellular receptor for calcium. Calmodulin mRNA was expressed throughout the preimplantation phase of development. The calmodulin antagonist, W-7, inhibited the ionomycin-induced localization of phosphorylated Creb1 in the nucleus. Treatment of embryos with W-7 caused a dose-dependent inhibition of normal development of zygotes to the blastocysts stage. The study shows Creb1 expression and nuclear localization was dynamically regulated in the early embryo. The marked nuclear accumulation and phosphorylation of Creb1 at the two-cell stage occurred at the time of transcription from the embryonic genome and was regulated in a calcium- and calmodulin-dependent manner.

Open access

C Rollo, Y Li, X L Jin and C O’Neill

Acetylation of histone proteins is a major determinant of chromatin structure and function. Fertilisation triggers a round of chromatin remodelling that prepares the genome for the first round of transcription from the new embryonic genome. In this study we confirm that fertilisation leads to a marked progressive increase in the level of histone 3 lysine 9 acetylation in both the paternally and maternally derived genomes. The culture of zygotes in simple defined media caused a marked increase in the global level of acetylation and this affected the male pronucleus more than the female. The culture created a marked asymmetry in staining between the two pronuclei that was not readily detected in zygotes collected directly from the reproductive tract and was ameliorated to some extent by optimized culture media. The increased acetylation caused by culture resulted in increased transcription of Hspa1b, a marker of embryonic genome activation. Pharmacological analyses showed the hyperacetylation of H3K9 and the increased expression of Hspa1b caused by culture were due to the altered net activity of a range of histone acetylases and deacetylases. The marked hyperacetylation of histone 3 lysine 9 caused by culture of zygotes may serve as an early biomarker for the effects of culture on the normal function of the embryo. The results also provide further evidence for an effect of the stresses associated with assisted reproductive technologies on the normal patterns of epigenetic reprogramming in the early embryo.

Free access

C L O’Neill, S Chow, Z Rosenwaks and G D Palermo

The first conception outside of the human body that led to the birth of Louise Brown was a tremendous accomplishment, which opened the door to the utilization of assisted reproductive techniques globally. This brought the understanding that accomplishing life in a dish required several steps, the most obvious being the timing and characteristics of fertilization. It soon became obvious in the 1980s that the most disappointing phenomenon was unexpected and complete fertilization failure. Among the approaches that were attempted to treat male factor infertility, ICSI surfaced as the technique that brought the ratio of the gametes to 1:1 and was also able to grant consistent fertilization and a higher pregnancy rate. ICSI has now been implemented for a quarter of a century, proving itself as the ultimate technique utilizing ejaculated spermatozoa independent of the semen parameters and is the sole insemination method to be used with surgically retrieved spermatozoa. There are currently various indications for ICSI that are widely adopted, rendering it the most popular insemination method worldwide. The reliability of ICSI ensures its employment in upcoming techniques involving in vitro spermatogenesis and neogametogenesis.

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G D Palermo, C L O’Neill, S Chow, S Cheung, A Parrella, N Pereira and Z Rosenwaks

Among infertile couples, 25% involve both male and female factors, while male factor alone accounts for another 25% due to oligo-, astheno-, teratozoospermia, a combination of the three, or even a complete absence of sperm cells in the ejaculate and can lead to a poor prognosis even with the help of assisted reproductive technology (ART). Intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) has been with us now for a quarter of a century and in spite of the controversy generated since its inception, it remains in the forefront of the techniques utilized in ART. The development of ICSI in 1992 has drastically decreased the impact of male factor, resulting in millions of pregnancies worldwide for couples who, without ICSI, would have had little chance of having their own biological child. This review focuses on the state of the art of ICSI regarding utility of bioassays that evaluate male factor infertility beyond the standard semen analysis and describes the current application and advances in regard to ICSI, particularly the genetic and epigenetic characteristics of spermatozoa and their impact on reproductive outcome.

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K. M. Battye, T. J. Parkinson, L. J. Jenner, G. Evans, C. O'Neill and G. E. Lamming

In sheep, the presence of an embryo in utero on the 12th to 13th day after oestrus prevents luteolysis. These studies investigated whether platelet-activating factor (PAF) could exert an antiluteolytic function, either alone or in combination with interferon. The intrauterine administration of 250 μg PAF per horn per day, administered through indwelling cannulae into the uterus as injections twice a day (n = 12) or by continuous infusion (n = 4) failed to extend luteal function compared with controls (n = 8). When indwelling cannulae were used to administer (i) 125 μg PAF per uterine horn, as a bolus infusion twice a day (n = 5), (ii) continuous infusion of 500 μg bovine recombinant α1-interferon each day (brIFN, n = 5), (iii) 125 μg PAF per horn twice a day, plus 500 μg brIFN per day (n = 8), or (iv) vehicle (n = 5), the luteal phase was significantly longer in co-infused (iii) than in control (iv) animals. These findings indicate that pharmacological doses of PAF may act synergistically with interferons to prevent luteolysis.