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J M Young and A S McNeilly

Theca cells function in a diverse range of necessary roles during folliculogenesis; to synthesize androgens, provide crosstalk with granulosa cells and oocytes during development, and provide structural support of the growing follicle as it progresses through the developmental stages to produce a mature and fertilizable oocyte. Thecal cells are thought to be recruited from surrounding stromal tissue by factors secreted from an activated primary follicle. The precise origin and identity of these recruiting factors are currently not clear, but it appears that thecal recruitment and/or differentiation involves not just one signal, but a complex and tightly controlled combination of multiple factors. It is clear that thecal cells are fundamental for follicular growth, providing all the androgens required by the developing follicle(s) for conversion into estrogens by the granulosa cells. Their function is enabled through the establishment of a vascular system providing communication with the pituitary axis throughout the reproductive cycle, and delivering essential nutrients to these highly active cells. During development, the majority of follicles undergo atresia, and the theca cells are often the final follicular cell type to die. For those follicles that do ovulate, the theca cells then undergo hormone-dependent differentiation into luteinized thecal cells of the corpus luteum. While the theca is an essential component of follicle development and ovulation, we do not yet fully understand the control of recruitment and function of theca cells, an important consideration since their function appears to be altered in certain causes of infertility.

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F. M. Young, P. J. Illingworth, and H. M. Fraser

The polypeptide ubiquitin covalently binds to cytoplasmic proteins and marks them for proteolytic degradation. Ubiquitin is upregulated during apoptosis in some systems. Apoptosis increases during luteolysis but it is not known whether ubiquitin is expressed in regressing corpora lutea. Marmoset ovaries were removed on day 10 of the luteal phase from animals that had received either no treatment, treatment with the PGF analogue cloprostenol 24 h earlier, or treatment with the GnRH antagonist antarelix for either 24 or 48 h before ovary collection. Ubiquitin was localized on ovarian sections by immunocytochemistry, and oligonucleosome formation characteristic of apoptosis was examined in isolated corpora lutea by electrophoresis of extracted [32P]DNA. Oligonucleosome formation was low in midluteal corpora lutea on day 10 but increased after induced luteal regression with PGF and GnRH antagonist. Nuclear ubiquitin immunoreactivity was found in 1.66 ± 0.66 steroidogenic cells and cytoplasmic staining was found in 0.4 ± 0.3 steroidogenic cells (per × 40 field of view) in midluteal phase corpora lutea on day 10. Luteolytic induction with PGF significantly increased the number of cells exhibiting cytoplasmic immunoreactivity to 12.24 ± 1.6 (P < 0.05). Ubiquitin immunoreactivity was not observed after GnRH-induced luteal regression. Apoptotic oligonucleosome formation was found after induced luteal regression with both PGF and GnRH antagonist, but ubiquitin upregulation only occurred after PGF-induced regression. These results indicate that ubiquitin expression is not specific for luteolysis and is not an indicator of luteal apoptosis, but that the polypeptide does play a role in luteal cellular responses to PGF.

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J. M. Deayton, I. R. Young, and G. D. Thorburn

The factors involved in the control of steroid secretion from the ovine placenta and in fetal growth are as yet unclear. We hypothesized that factors derived from the fetal pituitary may play a role in the production and release of placental steroids and in growth of the fetus, and have investigated the effects of fetal hypophysectomy performed between day 70 and day 79 of gestation (term = 147 days) on systemic concentrations of hormones derived from the placenta, and on fetal growth. Maternal peripheral progesterone, placental lactogen and uterine vein progesterone increased significantly from day 90 in all ewes. Peripheral concentrations of prostaglandin E2 and peripheral and uterine vein oestrone sulfate increased significantly in the control group but not in the fetal hypophysectomy group. Uterine vein prostaglandin E2 increased significantly after day 95 in the control group and after day 105 in the fetal hypophysectomy group. Early fetal hypophysectomy caused marked growth retardation. The weights of the brain, kidneys and liver of hypophysectomized fetuses were the same as those of controls suggesting that their growth is not under pituitary control. In contrast, the weights of heart and lungs were reduced in proportion to body weight, suggesting that heart, lung and carcass growth were under pituitary control. Our data indicate that the fetal pituitary influences the control of placental steroid and prostaglandin E2 biosynthesis after day 90 of gestation in sheep, but that output of other hormones such as placental lactogen is independent of pituitary control, and may determine organ-specific growth parameters that are unaffected by removal of the fetal pituitary.

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The immune fluorescence technique has been used to study reactions between serum and spermatozoa from several species of mammals.

Normal serum from adult guinea-pigs, rabbits, mice and men stained the acrosomes of homologous and heterologous spermatozoa, staining being most intense with rabbit and guinea-pig spermatozoa. Staining was weak with sera from rabbits up to 3 weeks of age, and could be removed by heating or Seitz-filtering the sera. Sera from immature guinea-pigs likewise lost most of their staining capacity on heating. Differences in the intensity of staining appeared to be determined chiefly by the species of spermatozoa rather than by the species of serum.

Serum from guinea-pigs immunized with homologous spermatozoa stained the surface of homologous sperm tails, in addition to the acrosomal staining. A slight cross-reaction probably occurred between this serum and the tails of hamster spermatozoa, but not with spermatozoa from other species. Immunization of rabbits with homologous spermatozoa failed to produce any tail staining.

The two reactions between serum and spermatozoa, i.e. with acrosomes and tails, are discussed in relation to the isoantigenicity of spermatozoa, and to induced aspermatogenesis following the injection of testis or spermatozoa and adjuvant.

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F. M. Young, P. J. Illingworth, S. F. Lunn, D. J. Harrison, and H. M. Fraser

The mechanism controlling luteal regression in primates is unknown but may involve cell death by apoptosis. Marmoset ovaries containing corpora lutea were studied at different stages of the normal ovarian cycle. Two additional groups of animals underwent induced luteolysis with either the prostaglandin F analogue, cloprostenol, or the GnRH antagonist, antarelix, at the mid-luteal phase. Apoptosis in ovarian sections was estimated both by counting the number of cells exhibiting morphological features of apoptosis and by in situ labelling the 3' ends of the DNA fragments with digoxigenin-11-dUTP. Apoptosis was found to be significantly increased in corpora lutea in the early follicular phase (equivalent to the later stage of luteal lifespan) compared with the mid-luteal phase corpora lutea, as judged by either computerized morphometry or 3' end labelling. Apoptosis was also increased by the administration of either cloprostenol or antarelix when using the 3' end labelling end point, but only after cloprostenol when using computerized morphometry. A further form of cell death, characterized by the formation of cytoplasmic vacuoles, was also observed in corpora lutea undergoing both induced and spontaneous regression. These results demonstrate that apoptosis within the primate corpus luteum is increased in both physiological and induced luteal regression. In addition, they show that an alternative form of cell death is involved in both spontaneous and induced luteal regression, although the relative importance of the two mechanisms remains to be determined.

Open access

J M Young, S Henderson, C Souza, H Ludlow, N Groome, and A S McNeilly

Little is known about the role of activin B during folliculogenesis. This study investigated the expression levels of activin/inhibin subunits (βA, βB, and α), steroid enzyme, and gonadotrophin receptors in theca (TC) and granulosa cells (GC) by QPCR and activin A and B and inhibin A protein levels in follicular fluid (FF) of developing sheep follicles during estrus and anestrus. The effect of activin B on androgen production from primary TC cultures in vitro was also assessed. During folliculogenesis, in anestrus and estrus, FF activin B concentrations and thecal and GC activin βB mRNA levels decreased as follicle diameter increased from 1–3 to >6 mm regardless of estrogenic status. Estrogenic preovulatory follicles had reduced concentrations of FF activins B and A, and TC and GCs expressed higher levels of activin βA mRNA at 3–4 mm, and TCs more inhibin α mRNA at >4 mm stages of development compared with nonestrogenic follicles. Activin B decreased androstenedione production from primary TCs in vitro, an effect blocked by inhibin A. Thus, sheep follicles 1–3 mm in diameter contained high FF levels of activin B, which decreased as the follicle size increased, and, like activin A, suppressed thecal androgen production in vitro, an effect blocked by inhibin. Furthermore, the theca of large estrogenic follicles expressed high levels of inhibin α and activin βA mRNA suggesting local thecal derived inhibin A production. This would inhibit the negative effects of thecal activins B and A ensuring maximum androgen production for enhanced estradiol production by the preovulatory follicle(s).

Free access

M. A. Kaminski, S. P. Ford, C. R. Youngs, and A. J. Conley

The effect of sex on pig conceptus development to day 12 of gestation was investigated. On day 2 of gestation, reciprocal embryo transfers were performed resulting in four groups (Yorkshire–Yorkshire, Yorkshire–Meishan, Meishan–Yorkshire and Meishan–Meishan). Conceptuses at day 12 were recovered from each recipient and diameter, as well as DNA, protein and oestradiol content were determined for individual conceptuses. The sex of individual conceptuses at day 12 was determined by amplification of a fragment of the pig SRY gene, using the polymerase chain reaction. Embryos developed more rapidly to day 12 in Yorkshire recipients, but there was no detectable effect of sex on the diameter, DNA, protein or oestradiol content of conceptuses from any transfer group. Thus, no sex effect was apparent under conditions either promoting or retarding the rate of early pig blastocyst growth. These results provide strong evidence that pig embryonic development occurs at a rate determined by uterine environment and not by sex of the conceptus.

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Pablo J Ross, Ramon M Rodriguez, Amy E Iager, Zeki Beyhan, Kai Wang, Neli P Ragina, Sook-Young Yoon, Rafael A Fissore, and Jose B Cibelli

The production of cloned animals by the transfer of a differentiated somatic cell into an enucleated oocyte circumvents fertilization. During fertilization, the sperm delivers a sperm-specific phospholipase C (PLCZ) that is responsible for triggering Ca2 + oscillations and oocyte activation. During bovine somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), oocyte activation is artificially achieved by combined chemical treatments that induce a monotonic rise in intracellular Ca2 + and inhibit either phosphorylation or protein synthesis. In this study, we tested the hypothesis that activation of bovine nuclear transfer embryos by PLCZ improves nuclear reprogramming. Injection of PLCZ cRNA into bovine SCNT units induced Ca2 + oscillations similar to those observed after fertilization and supported high rates of blastocyst development similar to that seen in embryos produced by IVF. Furthermore, gene expression analysis at the eight-cell and blastocyst stages revealed a similar expression pattern for a number of genes in both groups of embryos. Lastly, levels of trimethylated lysine 27 at histone H3 in blastocysts were higher in bovine nuclear transfer embryos activated using cycloheximide and 6-dimethylaminopurine (DMAP) than in those activated using PLCZ or derived from IVF. These results demonstrate that exogenous PLCZ can be used to activate bovine SCNT-derived embryos and support the hypothesis that a fertilization-like activation response can enhance some aspects of nuclear reprogramming.