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John J Bromfield

Seminal plasma is a complex fluid produced by the accessory glands of the male reproductive tract. Seminal plasma acts primarily as a transport medium for sperm on its arduous journey through the male and then female reproductive tract following ejaculation. This spermatozoan expedition will hopefully result in the meeting of and resultant fertilization of an oocyte, perpetuating the genetic lineage of both sexes. Whereas seminal plasma has historically been perceived as only a transport medium providing a nutrient-rich fluid environment for sperm during this exchange of genetic material, new insights into a complex communication pathway between males and females has been unraveled in the past 30 years. This new research suggests seminal plasma as a method to promote early pregnancy success by modulating cellular and molecular adaptions of the maternal environment required to facilitate healthy, successful pregnancy outcomes. Whereas much work on this exciting new communication process has focused on mice and translation to human reproduction, here we review the current evidence in domestic species where artificial insemination in the absence of seminal plasma is routine. Improving artificial insemination in domestic species to optimize offspring health and productivity could have far-reaching impacts on agriculturally relevant species such as cattle, sheep, pigs and horses.

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Laila A Ibrahim, Joseph M Kramer, R Stan Williams, and John J Bromfield

The microenvironment of the ovarian follicle is key to the developmental success of the oocyte. Minor changes within the follicular microenvironment can significantly disrupt oocyte development, compromising the formation of competent embryos and reducing fertility. Previously described as a sterile environment, the ovarian follicle of women has been shown to contain colonizing bacterial strains, whereas in domestic species, pathogen-associated molecules are concentrated in the follicular fluid of animals with uterine infection. The aim of this study is to determine whether human granulosa–luteal cells mount an innate immune response to pathogen-associated molecules, potentially disrupting the microenvironment of the ovarian follicle. Human granulosa–luteal cells were collected from patients undergoing assisted reproduction. Cells were cultured in the presence of pathogen-associated molecules (LPS, FSL-1 and Pam3CSK4) for 24h. Supernatants and total RNA were collected for assessment by PCR and ELISA. Granulosa–luteal cells were shown to express the molecular machinery required to respond to a range of pathogen-associated molecules. Expression of TLR4 varied up to 15-fold between individual patients. Granulosa–luteal cells increased the expression of the inflammatory mediators IL1B, IL6 and CXCL8 in the presence of the TLR4 agonist E. coli LPS. Similarly, the TLR2/6 ligand, FSL-1, increased the expression of IL6 and CXCL8. Although no detectable changes in CYP19A1 or STAR expression were observed in granulosa–luteal cells following challenge, a significant reduction in progesterone secretion was measured after treatment with FSL-1. These findings demonstrate the ability of human granulosa–luteal cells to respond to pathogen-associated molecules and generate an innate immune response.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Jason A Rizo, Laila A Ibrahim, Paula C C Molinari, Bo R Harstine, Rachel L Piersanti, and John J Bromfield

Semen induces post-coital inflammation of the endometrium in several species. Post-coital inflammation is proposed to alter the endometrial environment of early pregnancy, mediate embryonic development and modulate the maternal immune response to pregnancy. In cattle, it is common for pregnancies to occur in the absence of whole semen due to the high utilization of artificial insemination. Here, we have utilized a cell culture system to characterize semen-induced expression of inflammatory mediators in bovine endometrial cells and test the efficacy of transforming growth factor beta as the active agent in mediating any such change. We hypothesize that seminal plasma-derived transforming growth factor beta increases the expression of inflammatory mediators in bovine endometrial cells. Initially, we describe a heat-labile cytotoxic effect of seminal plasma on BEND cells, and a moderate increase in IL1B and IL6 expression. In addition, we show that transforming growth factor beta is present in bovine semen and can increase the expression of endometrial IL6, whereas blocking transforming growth factor beta in semen ameliorates this effect. However, intra-uterine infusion of seminal plasma, sperm or transforming growth factor beta did not alter the endometrial expression of inflammatory mediators. We conclude that bovine semen can modulate endometrial gene expression in vitro, which is partially due to the presence of transforming growth factor beta. It is likely that additional, unidentified, bioactive molecules in semen can alter the endometrial environment. Characterizing bioactive molecules in bovine semen may lead to the development of additives to improve artificial insemination in domestic species.

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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.