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Free access

Hui Li and Daniel J Spade

Fetal development of the mammalian testis relies on a series of interrelated cellular processes: commitment of somatic progenitor cells to Sertoli and Leydig cell fate, migration of endothelial cells and Sertoli cells, differentiation of germ cells, deposition of the basement membrane, and establishment of cell–cell contacts, including Sertoli–Sertoli and Sertoli–germ cell contacts. These processes are orchestrated by intracellular, endocrine, and paracrine signaling processes. Because of this complexity, testis development can be disrupted by a variety of environmental toxicants. The toxicity of phthalic acid esters (phthalates) on the fetal testis has been the subject of extensive research for two decades, and phthalates have become an archetypal fetal testis toxicant. Phthalates disrupt the seminiferous cord formation and maturation, Sertoli cell function, biosynthesis of testosterone in Leydig cells, and impair germ cell survival and development, producing characteristic multinucleated germ cells. However, the mechanisms responsible for these effects are not fully understood. This review describes current knowledge of the adverse effects of phthalates on the fetal testis and their associated windows of sensitivity, and compares and contrasts the mechanisms by which toxicants of current interest, bisphenol A and its replacements, analgesics, and perfluorinated alkyl substances, alter testicular developmental processes. Working toward a better understanding of the molecular mechanisms responsible for phthalate toxicity will be critical for understanding the long-term impacts of environmental chemicals and pharmaceuticals on human reproductive health.

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Kuan-Hao Tsui, Peng-Hui Wang, Li-Te Lin, and Chia-Jung Li

Because ovarian granulosa cells are essential for oocyte maturation and development, we validated human granulosa HO23 cells to evaluate the ability of the DHEA to prevent cell death after starvation. The present study was aimed to investigate whether DHEA could protect against starvation-induced apoptosis and necroptosis in human oocyte granulosa HO23 cells. The starvation was induced by treatment of serum-free (SF) medium for 4 h in vitro. Starvation-induced mitochondrial depolarization, cytochrome c release and caspase-3 activation were largely prevented by DHEA in HO23 cells. We found that treatment with DHEA can restore starvation-induced reactive oxygen species (ROS) generation and mitochondrial membrane potential imbalance. In addition, treatment of DHEA prevents cell death via upregulation of cytochrome c and downregulation of BAX in mitochondria. Most importantly, DHEA is ameliorated to mitochondrial function mediated through the decrease in mitochondrial ROS, maintained mitochondrial morphology, and enhancing the ability of cell proliferation and ROS scavenging. Our present data strongly indicate that DHEA reduces programmed cell death (apoptosis and necroptosis) in granulosa HO23 cells through multiple interactions with the mitochondrion-dependent programmed cell death pathway. Taken together, our data suggest that the presence of DHEA could be beneficial to protect human oocyte granulosa HO23 cells under in vitro culture conditions during various assisted reproductive technology (ART) programs.

Free Chinese abstract: A Chinese translation of this abstract is freely available at

Free access

Hui-Li Yang, Wen-Jie Zhou, Kai-Kai Chang, Jie Mei, Li-Qing Huang, Ming-Yan Wang, Yi Meng, Si-Yao Ha, Da-Jin Li, and Ming-Qing Li

The dysfunction of NK cells in women with endometriosis (EMS) contributes to the immune escape of menstrual endometrial fragments refluxed into the peritoneal cavity. The reciprocal communications between endometrial stromal cells (ESCs) and lymphocytes facilitate the development of EMS. However, the mechanism of these communications on cytotoxicity of natural killer (NK) cells in endometriotic milieus is still largely unknown. To imitate the local immune microenvironment, the co-culture systems of ESCs from patients with EMS and monocyte-derived macrophages or of ESCs, macrophages and NK cells were constructed. The cytokine levels in the co-culture unit were evaluated by ELISA. The expression of functional molecules in NK cells was detected by flow cytometry (FCM). The NK cell behaviors in vitro were analyzed by cell counting kit-8 and cytotoxic activation assays. After incubation with ESCs and macrophages, the expression of CD16, NKG2D, perforin and IFN-γ, viability and cytotoxicity of NK cells were significantly downregulated. The secretion of interleukin (IL)-1β, IL-10 and transforming growth factor (TGF)-β in the co-culture system of ESCs and macrophages was increased. Exposure with anti-IL-10 receptor β neutralizing antibody (αhIL-10Rβ) or αTGF-β could partly reverse these effects of ESCs and macrophages on NK cells in vitro. These results suggest that the interaction between macrophages and ESCs downregulates cytotoxicity of NK cells possibly by stimulating the secretion of IL-10 and TGF-β, and may further trigger the immune escape of ectopic fragments and promote the occurrence and the development of EMS.

Free access

Dong Han, Xin-Yan Cao, Hui-Li Wang, Jing-Jing Li, Yan-Bo Wang, and Jing-He Tan

Although studies suggest that the low competence of oocytes from prepubertal animals is due to their insufficient cytoplasmic maturation and that FSH improves oocyte maturation possibly by retarding meiotic progression and allowing more time for cytoplasmic maturation, the mechanisms by which puberty and gonadotropins regulate meiotic progression require additional detailed studies. For the first time, we observed that while meiotic progression was significantly slower, the maturation-promoting factor (MPF) activity of oocytes was significantly higher in prepubertal than in adult mice. To resolve this contradiction, we specified the molecules regulating the MPF activity and their localization during oocyte maturation in prepubertal and adult mice primed with or without gonadotropins. Our tests using corresponding enzyme regulators suggested that while activities of protein kinase A were unaffected, the activity of adenylate cyclase (ADCY) and phosphodiesterase increased while cell division cycle 2 homolog A (CDC2A) decreased significantly after puberty. While most of the adult oocytes had CDC2A protein concentrated in the germinal vesicle (GV) region, the majority of prepubertal oocytes showed no nuclear concentration of CDC2A. Maximally priming mice with equine chorionic gonadotropin brought the above parameters of prepubertal oocytes close to those in adult oocytes. Together, the results suggest that puberty and gonadotropin control oocyte meiotic progression mainly by regulating the ADCY activity and the concentration of the activated MPF toward the GV region.

Free access

Wen-Hui Zhou, Lin Dong, Mei-Rong Du, Xiao-Yong Zhu, and Da-Jin Li

Immune regulation during pregnancy is complex, and thus an optimal therapy for pregnancy complications is always a big challenge to reproductive medicine. Cyclosporin A (CsA), a potent immunosuppressant, prevents rejection of allografts by hosts, but little is known about the modulating effect of CsA on the materno-fetal relationship. Here, pregnant CBA/J females mated with DBA/2 males as an abortion-prone model were administered with CsA on day 4.5 of gestation, and the pregnant CBA/J females mated with BALB/c males were established as successful pregnancy control. It was demonstrated that administration of CsA at the window of implantation significantly up-regulated the expression of CTLA-4, while down-regulating the levels of CD80, CD86, and CD28 at the materno-fetal interface in the CBA/J×DBA/2 abortion-prone matings, and the embryo resorption rate of the abortion-prone matings reduced significantly after CsA treatment, implying that modulation of costimulatory molecule expression by CsA might contribute to preventing the fetus from maternal immune attack. In addition, treatment with CsA induced enhanced growth and reduced cell apoptosis of the murine trophoblast cells. Together, these findings indicate that CsA has a beneficial effect on the materno-fetal interface in abortion-prone matings, leading to a pregnancy outcome improvement, which might provide new therapeutics for spontaneous pregnancy wastage.

Free access

Jing Xue, Hui Zhang, Wei Liu, Ming Liu, Min Shi, Zeqing Wen, and Changzhong Li

Adenomyosis is a finding that is associated with dysmenorrhea and heavy menstrual bleeding, associated with PI3K/AKT signaling overactivity. To investigate the effect of metformin on the growth of eutopic endometrial stromal cells (ESCs) from patients with adenomyosis and to explore the involvement of AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) and PI3K/AKT pathways. Primary cultures of human ESCs were derived from normal endometrium (normal endometrial stromal cells (N-ESCs)) and adenomyotic eutopic endometrium (adenomyotic endometrial stroma cells (A-ESCs)). Expression of AMPK was determined using immunocytochemistry and western blot analysis. 3-(4, 5-Dimethylthiazol-2-yl)-2, 5-diphenyltetrazolium bromide assays were used to determine the effects of metformin and compound C on ESCs and also to detect growth and proliferation of ESCs. AMPK and PI3K/AKT signaling was determined by western blotting. A-ECSs exhibited greater AMPK expression than N-ESCs. Metformin inhibited proliferation of ESCs in a concentration-dependent manner. The IC50 was 2.45 mmol/l for A-ESCs and 7.87 mmol/l for N-ESCs. Metformin increased AMPK activation levels (p-AMPK/AMPK) by 2.0±0.3-fold in A-ESCs, 2.3-fold in A-ESCs from the secretory phase, and 1.6-fold in the proliferation phase. The average reduction ratio of 17β-estradiol on A-ESCs was 2.1±0.8-fold in proliferative phase and 2.5±0.5-fold in secretory phase relative to the equivalent groups not treated with 17β-estradiol. The inhibitory effects of metformin on AKT activation (p-AKT/AKT) were more pronounced in A-ESCs from the secretory phase (3.2-fold inhibition vs control) than in those from the proliferation phase (2.3-fold inhibition vs control). Compound C, a selective AMPK inhibitor, abolished the effects of metformin on cell growth and PI3K/AKT signaling. Metformin inhibits cell growth via AMPK activation and subsequent inhibition of PI3K/AKT signaling in A-ESCs, particularly during the secretory phase, suggesting a greater effect of metformin on A-ESCs from secretory phase.

Free access

Xiu Shi, Wei Xu, Hui-Hua Dai, Ying Sun, and Xiu-Li Wang

To compare the expression patterns of steroid receptor coactivators (SRCs) and steroid-induced stromal cell-derived factor 1 (CXCL12 (SDF1)) in normal and ectopic endometrium and to explore the roles of NCOA1 (SRC1) and NCOA2 (SRC2) in the steroid-induced CXCL12 expression in normal and ectopic endometrial stromal cells (ESCs). The NCOA1, NCOA2, NCOA3 (SRC3), and CXCL12 (SDF1)α mRNA levels in normal and ectopic endometrium were analyzed by quantitative real-time PCR. Steroid-induced CXCL12 expression was detected by the ELISA method and the chemotactic activity of conditioned supernatant to monocyte was assessed by the Boyden chamber method before and after the silencing of NCOA1 or NCOA2 with siRNA in normal and ectopic ESCs. The expression of NCOA1 and CXCL12 in ectopic endometrium was significantly greater than that in normal endometrium in the secretory phase. Progesterone (P4) was able to significantly inhibit estradiol (E2)-stimulated CXCL12 expression in normal and ectopic ESCs. The inhibitory rate of P4 in ectopic ESCs at 72 and 96 h was significantly lower than that in normal ESCs. Silencing of NCOA1 but not NCOA2 significantly reduced the E2-induced CXCL12 expression in normal and ectopic ESCs. The ability of P4 to inhibit E2-induced CXCL12 expression and monocyte chemotaxis in normal and ectopic ESCs was significantly attenuated when NCOA2 was silenced. NCOA1 plays a necessary role in E2-induced CXCL12 expression and NCOA2 is required for P4 to inhibit the E2-induced CXCL12 production in normal and ectopic endometrium.

Open access

Hui Li, Qianhui Huang, Yu Liu, and Lana X Garmire

Human placenta is a complex and heterogeneous organ interfacing between the mother and the fetus that supports fetal development. Alterations to placental structural components are associated with various pregnancy complications. To reveal the heterogeneity among various placenta cell types in normal and diseased placentas, as well as elucidate molecular interactions within a population of placental cells, a new genomics technology called single cell RNA-seq (or scRNA-seq) has been employed in the last couple of years. Here we review the principles of scRNA-seq technology, and summarize the recent human placenta studies at scRNA-seq level across gestational ages as well as in pregnancy complications, such as preterm birth and preeclampsia. We list the computational analysis platforms and resources available for the public use. Lastly, we discuss the future areas of interest for placenta single cell studies, as well as the data analytics needed to accomplish them.

Free access

Jia-Wei Shi, Hui-Li Yang, Zhen-Zhen Lai, Hui-Hui Shen, Xue-Yun Qin, Xue-Min Qiu, Yan Wang, Jiang-Nan Wu, and Ming-Qing Li

The survival and development of a semi-allogeneic fetus during pregnancy require the involvement of decidual stromal cells (DSCs), a series of cytokines and immune cells. Insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF1) is a low molecular weight peptide hormone with similar metabolic activity and structural characteristics of proinsulin, which exerts its biological effects by binding with its receptor. Emerging evidence has shown that IGF1 is expressed at the maternal–fetal interface, but its special role in establishment and maintenance of pregnancy is largely unknown. Here, we found that the expression of IGF1 in the decidua was significantly higher than that in the endometrium. Additionally, decidua from women with normal pregnancy had high levels of IGF1 compared with that from women with unexplained recurrent spontaneous miscarriage. Estrogen and progesterone led to the increase of IGF1 in DSCs through upregulating the expression of WISP2. Recombinant IGF1 or DSCs-derived IGF1 increased the survival, reduced the apoptosis of DSCs, and downregulated the cytotoxicity of decidual NK cells (dNK) through interaction with IGF1R. These data suggest that estrogen and progesterone stimulate the growth of DSCs and impair the cytotoxicity of dNK possibly by the WISP2/IGF1 signaling pathway.

Free access

Xuan-Tong Liu, Hui-Ting Sun, Zhong-Fang Zhang, Ru-Xia Shi, Li-Bing Liu, Jia-Jun Yu, Wen-Jie Zhou, Chun-Jie Gu, Shao-Liang Yang, Yu-Kai Liu, Hui-Li Yang, Feng-Xuan Xu, and Ming-Qing Li

It has been reported that the impaired cytotoxicity of natural killer (NK) cells and abnormal cytokines that are changed by the interaction between ectopic endometrial cells and immune cells is indispensable for the initiation and development of endometriosis (EMS). However, the mechanism of NK cells dysfunction in EMS remains largely unclear. Here, we found that NK cells in peritoneal fluid from women with EMS highly expressed indoleamine 2,3-dioxygenase (IDO). Furthermore, IDO+NK cells possessed lower NKp46 and NKG2D but higher IL-10 than that of IDO-NK. Co-culture with endometrial stromal cells (nESCs) from healthy control or ectopic ESCs (eESCs) from women with EMS led to a significant increase in the IDO level in NK cells from peripheral blood, particularly eESCs, and an anti-TGF-β neutralizing antibody suppressed these effects in vitro. NK cells co-cultured with ESC more preferentially inhibited the viability of nESCs than eESCs did, and pretreating with 1-methyl-tryptophan (1-MT), an IDO inhibitor, reversed the inhibitory effect of NK cells on eESC viability. These data suggest that ESCs induce IDO+NK cells differentiation partly by TGF-β and that IDO further restricts the cytotoxicity of NK cells in response to eESCs, which provides a potential therapeutic strategy for EMS patients, particularly those with a high number of impaired cytotoxic IDO+NK cells.