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Jane C Fenelon, Geoff Shaw, Chris O'Neill, Stephen Frankenberg, and Marilyn B Renfree

The control of reactivation from embryonic diapause in the tammar wallaby (Macropus eugenii) involves sequential activation of the corpus luteum, secretion of progesterone that stimulates endometrial secretion and subsequent changes in the uterine environment that activate the embryo. However, the precise signals between the endometrium and the blastocyst are currently unknown. In eutherians, both the phospholipid Paf and its receptor, platelet-activating factor receptor (PTAFR), are present in the embryo and the endometrium. In the tammar, endometrial Paf release in vitro increases around the time of the early progesterone pulse that occurs around the time of reactivation, but whether Paf can reactivate the blastocyst is unknown. We cloned and characterised the expression of PTAFR in the tammar embryo and endometrium at entry into embryonic diapause, during its maintenance and after reactivation. Tammar PTAFR sequence and protein were highly conserved with mammalian orthologues. In the endometrium, PTAFR was expressed at a constant level in the glandular epithelium across all stages and in the luminal epithelium during both diapause and reactivation. Thus, the presence of the receptor appears not to be a limiting factor for Paf actions in the endometrium. However, the low levels of PTAFR in the embryo during diapause, together with its up-regulation and subsequent internalisation at reactivation, supports earlier results suggesting that endometrial Paf could be involved in reactivation of the tammar blastocyst from embryonic diapause.

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Teruhito Ishihara, Jane C. Fenelon, Oliver W Griffith, Kei-ichiro Ishiguro, and Marilyn B Renfree

In the mouse, the timing of meiosis onset differs between sexes due to the sex-specific regulation of the meiosis initiation factors, STRA8 and MEIOSIN. Before the initiation of meiotic prophase I, the Stra8 promoter loses suppressive histone-3-lysine-27 trimethylation (H3K27me3) in both sexes, suggesting that H3K27me3-associated chromatin remodelling may be responsible for activating STRA8 and its co-factor MEIOSIN. Here we examined MEIOSIN and STRA8 expression in a eutherian (the mouse), two marsupials (the grey short-tailed opossum and the tammar wallaby) and two monotremes (the platypus and the short-beaked echidna) to ask whether this pathway is conserved between all mammals. The conserved expression of both genes in all three mammalian groups and of MEIOSIN and STRA8 protein in therian mammals suggests that they are the meiosis initiation factors in all mammals. Analyses of published DNase-seq and ChIP-seq data sets confirmed that H3K27me3-associated chromatin remodelling occurred at the STRA8, but not the MEIOSIN, promoter in therian mammals. Furthermore, culturing tammar ovaries with an inhibitor of H3K27me3 demethylation before meiotic prophase I affected STRA8 but not MEIOSIN transcriptional levels. Our data suggests that H3K27me3-associated chromatin remodelling is an ancestral mechanism that allows STRA8 expression in mammalian pre-meiotic germ cells.

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Kate Dutton-Regester, Tamara Keeley, Jane C Fenelon, Alice Roser, Haley Meer, Andrew Hill, Michael Pyne, Marilyn B Renfree, and Stephen Johnston

This study describes the progesterone profile during pregnancy in sexually mature female captive short-beaked echidnas (Tachyglossus aculeatus aculeatus). Echidnas were monitored daily by video surveillance to confirm key reproductive behaviour. Plasma samples were collected and pouch morphology was assessed three times a week. The pouch of the female echidna only develops during gestation and it was possible to create a four-stage grading system using the most distinguishable characteristics of pouch development. Maximum pouch development was associated with declining progesterone concentrations, with the pouch closing in a drawstring-like manner at oviposition. Control of pouch development in pregnant echidnas is not yet clear but later pouch development is associated with a decrease in progesterone and pouch closure and may be under mechanical influences of the egg or young in the pouch. The length of pregnancy was 16.7 ± 0.2 days with a 15.1 ± 1.0 days luteal phase followed by an incubation period in the pouch. Eggs could be detected in utero at least 4 days before oviposition. Plasma progesterone peaked at 10.5 ± 0.9 ng/mL within 12 days of mating but then declined to basal levels within 1 day of oviposition and remained basal throughout egg incubation, confirming that progesterone is elevated throughout pregnancy and that gestation does not extend beyond the luteal phase. After the loss of an egg or pouch young, most females entered a second oestrous cycle and ovulated, suggesting echidnas are seasonally polyoestrous. The duration of the luteal phase in the echidna corresponds with that observed in other mammals.