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Shuo Xiao, Francesca E Duncan, Lu Bai, Catherine T Nguyen, Lonnie D Shea and Teresa K Woodruff

Encapsulated in vitro follicle growth (eIVFG) has great potential to provide an additional fertility preservation option for young women and girls with cancer or other reproductive health threatening diseases. Currently, follicles are cultured for a defined period of time and analyzed as a cohort. However, follicle growth is not synchronous, and culturing follicles for insufficient or excessive times can result in compromised gamete quality. Our objective is to determine whether the selection of follicles based on size, rather than absolute culture time, better predict follicle maturity and oocyte quality. Multilayer secondary mouse follicles were isolated and encapsulated in 0.25% alginate. Follicles were cultured individually either for defined time periods or up to specific follicle diameter ranges, at which point several reproductive endpoints were analyzed. The metaphase II (MII) percentage after oocyte maturation on day 6 was the highest (85%) when follicles were cultured for specific days. However, if follicles were cultured to a terminal diameter of 300–350 μm irrespective of absolute time in culture, 93% of the oocytes reached MII. More than 90% of MII oocytes matured from follicles with diameters of 300–350 μm showed normal spindle morphology and chromosome alignment, 85% of oocytes showed two pronuclei after IVF, 81% developed into the two-cell embryo stage and 38% developed to the blastocyst stage, all significantly higher than the percentages in the other follicle size groups. Our study demonstrates that size-specific follicle selection can be used as a non-invasive marker to identify high-quality oocytes and improve reproductive outcomes during eIVFG.

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Vijay Pratap Singh, Wei-Ting Yueh, Jennifer L Gerton and Francesca E Duncan

Eighteen histone deacetylases exist in mammals. The class 1 histone deacetylases HDAC1 and HDAC2 are important for oogenesis and fertility in mice, likely via their effects on histones. The reproductive function of HDAC8, another class 1 enzyme, has not been explored. One key target of HDAC8 is the SMC3 subunit of cohesin, an essential complex mediating sister chromatid cohesion and chromosome segregation. In current models, HDAC8 activity is required for SMC3 recycling, but this function should be dispensable in oocytes since cohesion is established during pre-meiotic S phase and maintained until meiotic resumption during ovulation. Whether other oocyte-specific HDAC8-mediated deacetylation events are required for oogenesis and female fertility is unknown. We used two Cre drivers to remove Hdac8 at specific stages of oocyte development to address whether HDAC8 is required for female fertility in mice. When HDAC8 was knocked out in oocytes in primary and later stage follicles (Zp3-Cre), oogenesis and folliculogenesis appeared normal and mice were fertile. However, females were subfertile when HDAC8 was knocked out prior to pre-meiotic S phase and cohesion establishment (Vasa-Cre). This subfertility was independent of chromosome segregation errors during meiosis but rather appeared to be the result of defects in oogenesis that resulted in smaller fully grown oocytes with a reduced ability to resume meiosis. In all cases, we did not observe compensatory changes in HDAC1, HDAC2 and HDAC3 levels. Thus, although oocyte-specific expression of HDAC8 is not essential for mouse oogenesis after meiotic S phase, it contributes to optimal fertility. We infer that oocyte-specific expression of the deacetylase HDAC8 is required early in oogenesis for optimal fertility.

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Shawn M Briley, Susmita Jasti, Jennifer M McCracken, Jessica E Hornick, Barbara Fegley, Michele T Pritchard and Francesca E Duncan

Under normal physiological conditions, tissue remodeling in response to injury leads to tissue regeneration without permanent damage. However, if homeostasis between synthesis and degradation of extracellular matrix (ECM) components is altered, fibrosis – or the excess accumulation of ECM – can disrupt tissue architecture and function. Several organs, including the heart, lung and kidney, exhibit age-associated fibrosis. Here we investigated whether fibrosis underlies aging in the ovary – an organ that ages chronologically before other organs. We used Picrosirius Red (PSR), a connective tissue stain specific for collagen I and III fibers, to evaluate ovarian fibrosis. Using bright-field, epifluorescence, confocal and polarized light microscopy, we validated the specific staining of highly ordered PSR-stained fibers in the ovary. We next examined ovarian PSR staining in two mouse strains (CD1 and CB6F1) across an aging continuum and found that PSR staining was minimal in ovaries from reproductively young adult animals, increased in distinct foci in animals of mid-to-advanced reproductive age, and was prominent throughout the stroma of the oldest animals. Consistent with fibrosis, there was a reproductive age-associated increase in ovarian hydroxyproline content. We also observed a unique population of multinucleated macrophage giant cells, which are associated with chronic inflammation, within the ovarian stroma exclusively in reproductively old mice. In fact, several genes central to inflammation had significantly higher levels of expression in ovaries from reproductively old mice relative to young mice. These results establish fibrosis as an early hallmark of the aging ovarian stroma, and this altered microenvironment may contribute to the age-associated decline in gamete quality.

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Bruce F Kimler, Shawn M Briley, Brian W Johnson, Austin G Armstrong, Susmita Jasti and Francesca E Duncan

Radiation damage due to total body irradiation (TBI) or targeted abdominal radiation can deplete ovarian follicles and accelerate reproductive aging. We characterized a mouse model of low-dose TBI to investigate how radiation affects the follicular and stromal compartments of the ovary. A single TBI dose of either 0.1 Gy or 1 Gy (Cesium-137 γ) was delivered to reproductively adult CD1 female mice, and sham-treated mice served as controls. Mice were euthanized either 2 weeks or 5 weeks post exposure, and ovarian tissue was harvested. To assess the ovarian reserve, we classified and counted the number of morphologically normal follicles in ovarian histologic sections for all experimental cohorts using an objective method based on immunohistochemistry for an oocyte-specific protein (MSY2). 0.1 Gy did not affect that total number of ovarian follicles, whereas 1 Gy resulted in a dramatic loss. At two weeks, there was a significant reduction in all preantral follicles, but early antral and antral follicles were still present. By five weeks, there was complete depletion of all follicle classes. We examined stromal quality using histologic stains to visualize ovarian architecture and fibrosis and by immunohistochemistry and quantitative microscopy to assess cell proliferation, cell death and vasculature. There were no differences in the ovarian stroma across cohorts with respect to these markers, indicating that this compartment is more radio-resistant relative to the germ cells. These findings have implications for reproductive health and the field of fertility preservation because the radiation doses we examined mimic scatter doses experienced in typical therapeutic regimens.

Free access

Francesca E Duncan, Mary Zelinski, Alexander H Gunn, Jennifer E Pahnke, Conor L O’Neill, Nucharin Songsasen, Ryan I Woodruff and Teresa K Woodruff

Primordial follicles dictate a female’s reproductive life span and therefore are central to fertility preservation for both endangered species and individuals with fertility-threatening conditions. Ovarian tissue containing primordial follicles can be cryopreserved and later thawed and transplanted back into individuals to restore both endocrine function and fertility. Importantly, increasing numbers of human live births have been reported following ovarian tissue cryopreservation and transplantation. A current limitation of this technology is patient access to sites that are approved or equipped to process and cryopreserve ovarian tissue – especially in larger countries or low resource settings. Here, we review empirical evidence from both animal models and human studies that suggest that ovarian tissue can be transported at cold temperatures for several hours while still maintaining the integrity and reproductive potential of the primordial follicles within the tissue. In fact, several human live births have been reported in European countries using tissue that was transported at cold temperatures for up to 20 h before cryopreservation and transplantation. Ovarian tissue transport, if implemented widely in clinical practice, could therefore expand both patient and provider access to emerging fertility preservation options.