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Siân B MacKintosh, Hans-Joachim Schuberth, Laura L Healy, and I Martin Sheldon

Epithelial cells of the endometrium secrete prostaglandins to regulate the bovine oestrous cycle and form a functional barrier to microbes. However, bacterial infection of the endometrium commonly causes infertility in dairy cattle by disrupting endometrial physiology. Epithelial cell cultures are used to study the mechanisms of physiology and pathology, but 2D cultures may not reflect the 3D complexity of the epithelium. In this study, a polarised epithelial cell transwell culture was developed, using transepithelial resistance (TER), to monitor epithelial integrity. Polarised epithelial cells were treated with oxytocin and arachidonic acid to test physiological function and with lipopolysaccharide (LPS) to mimic bacterial infection. Supernatants were analysed for prostaglandin E2 (PGE), prostaglandin F2 α, the chemokine interleukin-8 (IL8) and the ability of supernatants to induce neutrophil migration. Confluent epithelial cells established polarity when TER was >1800 Ωcm2 and predominantly released prostaglandins basolaterally. In contrast, IL8 from epithelial cells accumulated apically and the supernatants were highly chemotactic for neutrophils. The striking exception was when the epithelial cells were treated with LPS in the apical or basolateral compartment independently, which led to the release of IL8 towards the treated compartment. Although stromal cells also accumulated PGE and IL8 in response to treatment, co-culture of stromal cells in the well below polarised epithelial cells did not influence cellular responses. In conclusion, polarised endometrial epithelial cells vectorially released prostaglandins and chemokines to reflect their respective mechanistic roles in physiology and pathology.

Free access

João P E Saut, Gareth D Healey, Alan M Borges, and I Martin Sheldon

The risk of bacterial infection of the endometrium causing uterine disease in cattle is increased in the progesterone-dominated luteal phase of the ovarian cycle, while oestrogens or oestrus are therapeutic or protective against disease. The first line of defence against bacteria, such as Escherichia coli that cause inflammation of the endometrium, is the innate immune system, which recognises bacterial lipopolysaccharide (LPS). This study tested the hypothesis that cyclic variation in ovarian hormone concentrations alters innate immune responses within the bovine endometrium. Ex vivo organ cultures of endometrium, and in vitro cultures of endometrial epithelial and stromal cells, and peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs), all mounted inflammatory responses to E. coli or LPS, with secretion of inflammatory mediators interleukin 1β (IL1β), IL6 and IL8, and increased expression of mRNA encoding IL1B, IL6, CXCL8 (IL8) and CCL5. However, these inflammatory responses, typical of innate immunity, were not affected by the stage of ovarian cycle in which the endometrium was collected for organ culture, or by exogenous oestradiol or progesterone. Although a dexamethasone-positive control reduced inflammation stimulated by E. coli or LPS, treatment with oestradiol or progesterone, or inhibitors of oestradiol or progesterone nuclear receptors, did not affect endometrial cell or PBMC secretion of IL1β, IL6 or IL8, or IL1B, IL6, CXCL8 and CCL5 gene expression. In conclusion, the stage of the oestrus cycle or ovarian steroids did not modulate the innate immune response in the bovine endometrium in vitro.

Free access

Rachel L Piersanti, Anthony D Horlock, Jeremy Block, José E P Santos, I Martin Sheldon, and John J Bromfield

Metritis is associated with reduced fertility in dairy cows, but the mechanisms are unclear because the disease resolves several weeks before insemination. One hypothesis is that metritis causes persistent changes in granulosa cells during follicle development, which might be evident in the transcriptome of granulosa cells from dominant follicles weeks after parturition. To test this hypothesis, we collected the follicular fluid and granulosa cells from dominant follicles 63 days post partum from cows previously diagnosed with metritis, at least 6 weeks after resolution of the disease and from cows not diagnosed with metritis (control cows). Bacterial lipopolysaccharide was detected in follicular fluid, and concentrations were associated with follicular fluid IL-8 and glucose concentrations. Transcriptome analysis using RNAseq revealed 177 differentially expressed genes in granulosa cells collected from cows that had metritis compared with control cows. The most upregulated genes were ITLN1, NCF2, CLRN3, FSIP2 and ANKRD17, and the most downregulated genes were ACSM1, NR4A2, GHITM, CBARP and NR1I3. Pathway analysis indicated that the differentially expressed genes were involved with immune function, cell–cell communication, cell cycle and cellular metabolism. Predicted upstream regulators of the differentially expressed genes included NFκB, IL-21 and lipopolysaccharide, which are associated with infection and immunity. Our data provide evidence for a persistent effect of metritis on the transcriptome of granulosa cells in ovarian follicles after the resolution of disease.

Free access

Anthony D Horlock, Thomas J R Ormsby, Martin J D Clift, José E P Santos, John J Bromfield, and I Martin Sheldon

Bovine granulosa cells are often exposed to energy stress, due to the energy demands of lactation, and exposed to lipopolysaccharide from postpartum bacterial infections. Granulosa cells mount innate immune responses to lipopolysaccharide, including the phosphorylation of mitogen-activated protein kinases and production of pro-inflammatory interleukins. Cellular energy depends on glycolysis, and energy stress activates intracellular AMPK (AMP-activated protein kinase), which in turn inhibits mTOR (mechanistic target of rapamycin). Here, we tested the hypothesis that manipulating glycolysis, AMPK or mTOR to mimic energy stress in bovine granulosa cells limits the inflammatory responses to lipopolysaccharide. We inhibited glycolysis, activated AMPK or inhibited mTOR in granulosa cells isolated from 4–8mm and from > 8.5 mm diameter ovarian follicles, and then challenged the cells with lipopolysaccharide and measured the production of interleukins IL-1α, IL-1β, and IL-8. We found that inhibiting glycolysis with 2-deoxy-d-glucose reduced lipopolysaccharide-stimulated IL-1α > 80%, IL-1β > 90%, and IL-8 > 65% in granulosa cells from 4–8 mm and from > 8.5 mm diameter ovarian follicles. Activating AMPK with AICAR also reduced lipopolysaccharide-stimulated IL-1α > 60%, IL-1β > 75%, and IL-8 > 20%, and shortened the duration of lipopolysaccharide-stimulated phosphorylation of the mitogen-activated protein kinase ERK1/2 and JNK. However, only the mTOR inhibitor Torin 1, and not rapamycin, reduced lipopolysaccharide-stimulated IL-1α and IL-1β. In conclusion, manipulating granulosa cell energy metabolism with a glycolysis inhibitor, an AMPK activator, or an mTOR inhibitor, limited inflammatory responses to lipopolysaccharide. Our findings imply that energy stress compromises ovarian follicle immune defences.

Restricted access

Anthony D Horlock, Thomas J R Ormsby, Martin J D Clift, José E P Santos, John J Bromfield, and I Martin Sheldon

In brief

Bovine granulosa cells need to be cultured with serum to generate inflammation in response to bacterial lipopolysaccharide. This study shows that it is cholesterol that facilitates this lipopolysaccharide-stimulated cytokine secretion.


During bacterial infections of the bovine uterus or mammary gland, ovarian granulosa cells mount inflammatory responses to lipopolysaccharide (LPS). In vitro, LPS stimulates granulosa cell secretion of the cytokines IL-1α and IL-1β and the chemokine IL-8. These LPS-stimulated inflammatory responses depend on culturing granulosa cells with serum, but the mechanism is unclear. Here, we tested the hypothesis that cholesterol supports inflammatory responses to LPS in bovine granulosa cells. We used granulosa cells isolated from 4 to 8 mm and >8.5 mm diameter ovarian follicles and manipulated the availability of cholesterol. We found that serum or follicular fluid containing cholesterol increased LPS-stimulated secretion of IL-1α and IL-1β from granulosa cells. Conversely, depleting cholesterol using methyl-β-cyclodextrin diminished LPS-stimulated secretion of IL-1α, IL-1β and IL-8 from granulosa cells cultured in serum. Follicular fluid contained more high-density lipoprotein cholesterol than low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, and granulosa cells expressed the receptor for high-density lipoprotein, scavenger receptor class B member 1 (SCARB1). Furthermore, culturing granulosa cells with high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, but not low-density lipoprotein or very low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, increased LPS-stimulated inflammation in granulosa cells. Cholesterol biosynthesis also played a role in granulosa cell inflammation because RNAi of mevalonate pathway enzymes inhibited LPS-stimulated inflammation. Finally, treatment with follicle-stimulating hormone, but not luteinising hormone, increased LPS-stimulated granulosa cell inflammation, and follicle-stimulating hormone increased SCARB1 protein. However, changes in inflammation were not associated with changes in oestradiol or progesterone secretion. Taken together, these findings imply that cholesterol supports inflammatory responses to LPS in granulosa cells.

Free access

Shan Herath, Erin J Williams, Sonia T Lilly, Robert O Gilbert, Hilary Dobson, Clare E Bryant, and I Martin Sheldon

Oestrogens are pivotal in ovarian follicular growth, development and function, with fundamental roles in steroidogenesis, nurturing the oocyte and ovulation. Infections with bacteria such as Escherichia coli cause infertility in mammals at least in part by perturbing ovarian follicle function, characterised by suppression of oestradiol production. Ovarian follicle granulosa cells produce oestradiol by aromatisation of androstenedione from the theca cells, under the regulation of gonadotrophins such as FSH. Many of the effects of E. coli are mediated by its surface molecule lipopolysaccharide (LPS) binding to the Toll-like receptor-4 (TLR4), CD14, MD-2 receptor complex on immune cells, but immune cells are not present inside ovarian follicles. The present study tested the hypothesis that granulosa cells express the TLR4 complex and LPS directly perturbs their secretion of oestradiol. Granulosa cells from recruited or dominant follicles are exposed to LPS in vivo and when they were cultured in the absence of immune cell contamination in vitro they produced less oestradiol when challenged with LPS, although theca cell androstenedione production was unchanged. The suppression of oestradiol production by LPS was associated with down-regulation of transcripts for aromatase in granulosa cells, and did not affect cell survival. Furthermore, these cells expressed TLR4, CD14 and MD-2 transcripts throughout the key stages of follicle growth and development. It appears that granulosa cells have an immune capability to detect bacterial infection, which perturbs follicle steroidogenesis, and this is a likely mechanism by which ovarian follicle growth and function is perturbed during bacterial infection.

Free access

I Martin Sheldon, James G Cronin, Gareth D Healey, Christoph Gabler, Wolfgang Heuwieser, Dominik Streyl, John J Bromfield, Akio Miyamoto, Chrys Fergani, and Hilary Dobson

Mammalian reproductive physiology and the development of viviparity co-evolved with inflammation and immunity over millennia. Many inflammatory mediators contribute to paracrine and endocrine signalling, and the maintenance of tissue homeostasis in the female reproductive tract. However, inflammation is also a feature of microbial infections of the reproductive tract. Bacteria and viruses commonly cause endometritis, perturb ovarian follicle development and suppress the endocrine activity of the hypothalamus and pituitary in cattle. Innate immunity is an evolutionary ancient system that orchestrates host cell inflammatory responses aimed at eliminating pathogens and repairing damaged tissue. Pattern recognition receptors on host cells bind pathogen-associated molecular patterns and damage-associated molecular patterns, leading to the activation of intracellular MAPK and NFκB signalling pathways and the release of inflammatory mediators. Inflammatory mediators typically include the interleukin cytokines IL1β and IL6, chemokines such as IL8, interferons and prostaglandins. This review outlines the mechanisms of inflammation and innate immunity in the bovine female reproductive tract during health and disease condition.

Free access

Anthony D Horlock, Rachel L Piersanti, Rosabel Ramirez-Hernandez, Fahong Yu, Zhengxin Ma, KwangCheol C Jeong, Martin J D Clift, Jeremy Block, José E P Santos, John J Bromfield, and I Martin Sheldon

Infection of the postpartum uterus with pathogenic bacteria is associated with infertility months later in dairy cattle. However, it is unclear whether these bacterial infections lead to long-term changes in the reproductive tract that might help explain this infertility. Here we tested the hypothesis that infusion of pathogenic bacteria into the uterus leads to changes in the transcriptome of the reproductive tract 3 months later. We used virgin Holstein heifers to avoid potential confounding effects of periparturient problems, lactation, and negative energy balance. Animals were infused intrauterine with endometrial pathogenic bacteria Escherichia coli and Trueperella pyogenes (n = 4) and compared with control animals (n = 6). Three months after infusion, caruncular and intercaruncular endometrium, isthmus and ampulla of the oviduct, and granulosa cells from ovarian follicles >8 mm diameter were profiled by RNA sequencing. Bacterial infusion altered the transcriptome of all the tissues when compared with control. Most differentially expressed genes were tissue specific, with 109 differentially expressed genes unique to caruncular endometrium, 57 in intercaruncular endometrium, 65 in isthmus, 298 in ampulla, and 83 in granulosa cells. Surprisingly, despite infusing bacteria into the uterus, granulosa cells had more predicted upstream regulators of differentially expressed genes than all the other tissues combined. In conclusion, there were changes in the transcriptome of the endometrium, oviduct and even granulosa cells, 3 months after intrauterine infusion of pathogenic bacteria. These findings imply that long-term changes throughout the reproductive tract could contribute to infertility after bacterial infections of the uterus.