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J. E. Sánchez-Criado, M. Tébar, A. Sánchez, and F. Gaytán

Administration of antiprogesterone RU486 to female cyclic rats results in blockade of ovulation associated with both a decreased ovulatory release of LH and an increased rate of follicular atresia. These rats also exhibit increased LH:FSH and testosterone:oestradiol ratios in serum during the period of follicular development as well as an increase in serum concentrations of prolactin that can be suppressed by a dopamine agonist. The increase in either prolactin or testosterone concentrations as well as the relative deficiency in FSH might be responsible for the increase in follicular atresia. The present work evaluated the involvement of LH, FSH, prolactin and testosterone in follicular atresia and in blockade of ovulation induced by RU486 in the cyclic rat. Although bromocriptine treatment did not modify the blockade of ovulation induced by RU486, unilateral ovariectomy at metoestrus and antiandrogen flutamide treatment reversed, in part, the effects of RU486 on both follicular development and ovulation. The combined increase in FSH serum concentration during dioestrus induced by unilateral ovariectomy and the treatment with flutamide had no additive effects. Furthermore, treatment with a superovulatory amount of hFSH did not reverse the effects of RU486. Moreover, unilateral ovariectomy halved testosterone serum concentrations and flutamide treatment had no effect on LH and FSH concentrations in RU486-treated rats. It was therefore concluded that androgens play a role, at least in part, in the process of follicular atresia induced by RU486.

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M Gaytán, M A Sánchez, C Morales, C Bellido, Y Millán, J Martín de las Mulas, J E Sánchez-Criado, and F Gaytán

The ovarian surface epithelium (OSE) plays pivotal roles during ovulation and postovulatory wound repair. In this paper we describe the proliferative activity of the OSE through the estrous cycle in adult cycling rats, by immunohistochemical detection of DNA-incorporated bromodeoxyuridine (BrdU). Immunohistochemical detection of estrogen receptor α (ERα) and progesterone receptor was also performed. The cycle of the OSE consists of a proliferative phase (that lasts for two consecutive estrous cycles) and a quiescent phase of variable duration. Cyclic changes in the OSE were related to the underlying ovarian structure. OSE areas covering growing follicles entered into the proliferative phase during the transition from proestrus to estrus, with the appearance of fast-growing class 1 follicles, destined to ovulate at the end of the current estrous cycle. A labeling index (after pulse-labeling BrdU treatment) of about 7% was maintained throughout the estrous cycle in parallel to follicle growth. Cumulative BrdU-labeling (after daily BrdU treatment) indicated that about 1/3 of the total OSE cell proliferation was related to follicle growth. Following ovulation, OSE cells covering newly-formed corpora lutea showed a labeling index of about 50% that decreased through metestrus and diestrus (about 13% and 3%, respectively), returning to basal levels by proestrus. Cumulative BrdU-labeling indicated that about 2/3 of the total proliferative activity was related to ovulation repair/luteinization. The remaining OSE covering ovarian stroma or structurally regressing corpora lutea of previous cycles showed negligible BrdU labeling. The equivalent proliferative activity found in the OSE covering newly-formed corpora lutea in indomethacin-treated rats lacking rupture of the OSE at the apex, demonstrated that ovulation-triggered proliferation was not dependent on the loss of integrity of the OSE at the ovulation site. OSE cells expressed ERα throughout the cycle, but no differential expression was found between proliferating and quiescent OSE areas. On the contrary, OSE cells did not express PR at any time of the cycle. These data indicate the existence of a cycle of the OSE, related to the cyclic changes in the underlying ovarian structure and strongly suggest that the proliferative activity of the OSE is regulated by local microenvironmental rather than by systemic factors.

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M Gaytán, C Bellido, C Morales, J E Sánchez-Criado, and F Gaytán

Treatment with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, either non-selective or selective cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) inhibitors, consistently impairs ovulation, indicating the essential role of COX-2/prostaglandins in the ovulatory process. Indomethacin, a potent inhibitor of both COX-1 and COX-2, induced several ovulatory alterations, consisting of a decrease in the number of oocytes effectively ovulated, trapping of oocytes inside the luteinized follicle, as well as abnormal follicle rupture at the basolateral sides, with release of the oocyte and follicular fluid to the interstitium. Yet, the precise role of prostaglandins in ovulation and whether some of the ovulatory defects induced by indomethacin are due to interference with additional components of the ovulatory cascade, beyond prostaglandin synthesis, are not completely understood. We have used gonadotrophin-primed immature rats to analyse whether, compared to indomethacin, selective inhibition of COX-2, with or without concomitant inhibition of COX-1, or selective inhibition of the lipooxygenase (LOX) pathway, induce similar ovulatory alterations. Immature rats (27 days of age) were injected PMSG (10 IU), and 48 h later hCG (10 IU) subcutaneously, and different anti-inflammatory drugs. Animals were killed at 21 h after hCG injection. Rats treated with the selective COX-2 inhibitor NS398 (10 mg/kg body weight, (bw)) showed alterations in follicle rupture as those treated with indomethacin (0.5 mg/rat), albeit affecting a lower number of follicles, irrespective of the concomitant inhibition of COX-1 with the selective inhibitor SC560 (10 mg/kg bw). Rats treated with the LOX inhibitor NDGA (300 mg/kg bw) did not show ovulatory alterations. These data indicate that the characteristic alterations of follicle rupture induced by indomethacin, are also induced by selective COX-2 inhibitors, strengthening the contention that prostaglandins play a crucial role in the spatial targeting of follicle rupture at the apex.

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A Gonzalez-Bulnes, C Ovilo, C J Lopez-Bote, S Astiz, M Ayuso, M L Perez-Solana, R Sanchez-Sanchez, and L Torres-Rovira

The effects of undernutrition during pregnancy on prenatal and postnatal development of the offspring were evaluated in sows with obesity/leptin resistance. Females were fed, from day 35 of pregnancy onwards, a diet fulfilling either 100% (group control, n=10) or 50% of the nutritional requirements (group underfed, n=10). In the control group, maternal body weight increased during pregnancy (P<0.05) while it decreased or remained steady in the underfed group. At days 75 and 100 of gestation, plasma triglycerides were lower but urea levels were higher in restricted than in control sows (P<0.05 for both). Assessment of the offspring indicated that the trunk diameter was always smaller in the restricted group (P<0.01 at day 50, P<0.005 at days 75 and 100 and P<0.0001 at birth) while head measurements were similar through pregnancy, although smaller in the restricted than in the control group at birth (P<0.05). Newborns from restricted sows were also lighter than offspring from control females (P<0.01) and had higher incidence of growth retardation (P<0.01). Afterwards, during lactation, early postnatal growth in restricted piglets was modulated by gender. At weaning, males from restricted sows were still lighter than their control counterparts (P<0.05), while females from control and underfed sows were similar. Thus, the current study indicates a gender-related differential effect in the growth patterns of the piglets, with females from restricted sows evidencing catch-up growth to neutralise prenatal retardation and reaching similar development than control counterparts.

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E Isachenko, V Isachenko, J M Weiss, R Kreienberg, I I Katkov, M Schulz, A G-M I Lulat, M J Risopatrón, and R Sánchez

This study investigates the ability of sucrose to protect spermatozoa against mitochondrial damage, artificial cryoinduction of capacitation, and acrosome reaction. Spermatozoa were isolated using the swim-up procedure performed using three different media: (a) human tubal fluid (HTF, control) medium; (b) HTF with 1% human serum albumin (HSA); and (c) HTF with 1% HSA and 0.25 M sucrose. From each group, 30 μl suspensions of cells were dropped directly into liquid nitrogen and stored for at least 24 h. Cells were thawed by quickly submerging the spheres in HTF with 1% HSA at 37 °C with gentle agitation. Sperm motility, viability, mitochondrial membrane potential integrity, spontaneous capacitation, and acrosome reaction were investigated. Sperm viability, acrosome reaction, and capacitation were detected using the double fluorescence chlortetracycline-Hoechst 33258 staining technique. Mitochondrial function was evaluated using a unique fluorescent cationic dye, 5,5′,6,6′-tetrachloro-1-1′,3,3′-tetraethyl-benzamidazolocarbocyanin iodide, commonly known as JC-1. The number of progressively motile spermatozoa was significantly higher in the sucrose-supplemented medium group (57.1±3.2%, P<0.05) when compared with controls (19.4±1.9%). The combination of HSA and sucrose (65.2±2.6%) has a stronger cryoprotective effect on the integrity of mitochondrial membrane potential (P<0.05) compared with HSA alone (32.6±4.7%). In conclusion, vitrification of human spermatozoa with non-permeable cryoprotectants such as HSA and sucrose can effectively cryopreserve the cells without significant loss of important physiological parameters.

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R Perez-Pe, JI Marti, E Sevilla, M Fernandez-Sanchez, E Fantova, J Altarriba, JA Cebrian-Perez, and T Muino-Blanco

The prediction of the fertilizing ability of a sire or a given insemination dose is a primary aim in the field of artificial insemination. Centrifugal countercurrent distribution analysis (CCCD) was used to determine the relationship between some sperm parameters and the in vivo fertility rate obtained with the same sample after cervical artificial insemination. A total of 522 ewes from 26 different farms was inseminated with 53 ejaculates obtained from 25 mature Rasa aragonesa rams. Semen was diluted to 1.6 x 10(9) cells ml-1 and doses of 0.25 ml were prepared and kept at 15 degrees C until used for insemination. The same ejaculates were used for analysis of standard semen parameters and CCCD analysis. Sperm motility, concentration and viability were determined before and after CCCD. Post-CCCD parameters were derived from the analysis of the profile obtained after CCCD. The recovered viability showed the highest correlation with fertility, especially in the central chambers (V2), r = 0.415, P < 0.005). The ejaculate heterogeneity also showed a positive correlation with field fertility (r = 0.23), with a tendency towards significance (P < 0.1). The mean fertility value of all ejaculates used in this study was 46.75%, ranging from 12.5% to 75.0%. Ejaculates were classified into two categories according to their fertility: higher and lower than the mean value. Only the viability recovered in the central chambers (V2) was a parameter with a predictive capacity to discriminate between the two groups (P < 0.05). A predictive equation for field fertility with a correlation coefficient r = 0.488 and a very high level of significance (P < 0.005) was deduced by multiple analysis: PF = 6.02 + 0.069V2 + 0.315H (where PF is predictive fertility, V2 is the recovered viability in the CCCD profile central chambers and H is heterogeneity).

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A Ramírez, L M Hinojosa, J d J Gonzales, D Montante-Montes, B Martínez-Benítez, R Aguilar-Guadarrama, A Gamboa-Domínguez, F Morales, A Carrillo-García, M Lizano, R García-Becerra, L Díaz, A Y Vázquez-Sánchez, and J Camacho

Potassium voltage-gated channel, subfamily H (eag-related), member 1 (KCNH1) potassium channels are potential tumour markers and cancer therapeutic targets and are up-regulated by oestrogens and human papilloma virus (HPV) oncogenes. However, the role of KCNH1 in normal tissues is poorly understood, and its expression in pregnancy is unknown. We wondered whether KCNH1 channels are expressed in cervical cells from pregnant patients and whether progesterone (P4) regulates KCNH1. The association with HPV was also investigated. KCNH1 protein expression was studied by immunocytochemistry in liquid-based cervical cytologies; 93 samples were obtained from pregnant patients at different trimesters, and 15 samples were obtained from non-pregnant women (controls). The presence of HPV was studied by PCR with direct sequencing and nested multiplex PCR. HeLa cervical cancer cells were transfected with human progesterone receptor-B (PR-B) and treated with P4. KCNH1 mRNA expression in these cultures was studied by real-time PCR. KCNH1 protein was detected in 100% of the pregnancy samples and in 26% of the controls. We found 18 pregnant patients infected with HPV and detected 14 types of HPV. There was no association between the percentage of cells expressing KCNH1 and either the presence or type of HPV. P4 induced KCNH1 mRNA and protein expression in cells transfected with human PR-B. No regulation of KCNH1 by P4 was observed in non-transfected cells. We show for the first time the expression of an ion channel during human pregnancy at different trimesters and KCNH1 regulation by P4 in human cells. These data raise a new research field for KCNH1 channels in human tissues.

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A P López-Cardona, M J Sánchez-Calabuig, P Beltran-Breña, N Agirregoitia, D Rizos, E Agirregoitia, and A Gutierrez-Adán

Endocannabinoids are known to mediate practically all reproductive events in mammals; however, little is known about their role in oocyte maturation. Through RT-PCR and immunocytochemistry, this study confirms the presence of CB1 and CB2 cannabinoid receptors in bovine oocytes and shows how exposure to the exogenous cannabinoids HU-210 and THC during their in vitro maturation (IVM) activates the phosphorylation of AKT and ERK1/2 proteins associated with the resumption of meiosis. Although supplementation with HU-210 or THC during IVM did not increase blastocyst yields, the expression of interferon tau (IFNτ) and gap junction alpha-1 protein (GJA1) was enhanced at the blastocyst stage. Our data suggest that cannabinoid agonists may be useful IVM supplements as their presence during oocyte maturation upregulates the expression in blastocysts of key genes for embryo quality.

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C Passaro, D Tutt, D J Mathew, J M Sanchez, J A Browne, G B Boe-Hansen, T Fair, and P Lonergan

The objectives of this study were (i) to determine whether blastocyst-induced responses in endometrial explants were detectable after 6- or 24-h co-culture in vitro; (ii) to test if direct contact is required between embryos and the endometrial surface in order to stimulate endometrial gene expression; (iii) to establish the number of blastocysts required to elicit a detectable endometrial response; (iv) to investigate if upregulation of five interferon-stimulated genes (ISGs) in the endometrium was specific to the blastocyst stage and (v) to test if alterations in endometrial gene expression can be induced by blastocyst-conditioned medium. Exposure of endometrial explants to Day 8 blastocysts in vitro for 6 or 24 h induced the expression of ISGs (MX1, MX2, OAS1, ISG15, RSAD2); expression of IFNAR1, IFNAR2, NFKB1, IL1B, STAT1, LGALS3BP, LGALS9, HPGD, PTGES, ITGB1, AKR1C4, AMD1 and AQP4 was not affected. Culture of explants in the presence of more than five blastocysts was sufficient to induce the effect, with maximum expression of ISGs occurring in the presence of 20 blastocysts. This effect was exclusive to blastocyst stage embryos; oocytes, 2-cell embryos or Day 5 morulae did not alter the relative abundance of any of the transcripts examined. Direct contact between blastocysts and the endometrial surface was not required in order to alter the abundance of these transcripts and blastocyst-conditioned medium alone was sufficient to stimulate a response. Results support the notion that local embryo–maternal interaction may occur as early as Day 8 of pregnancy in cattle.