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Hsun-Ming Chang, Jung-Chien Cheng, Yingtao Liu, Christian Klausen, Congjian Xu, and Peter C K Leung

Lysyl oxidase (LOX) is the key enzyme involved in the crosslinking of collagen and elastin that is essential for the formation of extracellular matrix (ECM). LOX-mediated ECM remodeling plays a critical role in follicle development, oocyte maturation and corpus luteum formation. To date, the regulation of LOX in human ovary has never been elucidated. Activin A and its functional receptors are highly expressed in ovarian follicles from an early developmental stage. They locally regulate follicle progression. The aim of this study was to investigate the effects of activin A on the expression of LOX and its extracellular enzyme activity in primary and immortalized human granulosa–lutein cells obtained from patients undergoing an in vitro fertilization procedure. We demonstrated that activin A significantly upregulated the expression of connective tissue growth factor (CTGF) and LOX via an activin/TGF-β type I receptor mediated-signaling pathway. Using a target depletion small interfering RNA knockdown approach, we further confirmed that the upregulation of CTGF expression resulted in an activin-A-induced increases in LOX expression and activity. These findings may provide insight into the mechanisms by which intrafollicular growth factors regulate the expression of LOX for ECM formation and tissue remodeling in the human ovary.

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Ying Fang, Hsun-Ming Chang, Jung-Chien Cheng, Christian Klausen, Peter C K Leung, and Xiaokui Yang

Lysyl oxidase (LOX), a key enzyme in the formation and stabilization of the extracellular matrix, is expressed in granulosa cells and plays a critical role in the regulation of granulosa cell differentiation, oocyte maturation and ovulation. To date, the regulation of LOX expression in human granulosa cells remains largely unknown. In this study, using primary and immortalized human granulosa lutein cells, we demonstrated that transforming growth factor (TGF)-β1 (TGFB1) upregulated LOX expression and downregulated microRNA-29a (MIR29A) expression via a TGF-β type I receptor-mediated signaling pathway. Additionally, we showed that MIR29A downregulated the expression of LOX in both types of cells. Furthermore, the downregulation of MIR29A contributed to the TGFB1-induced increase in LOX expression because the inhibition of MIR29A with a MIR29A inhibitor not only reversed the MIR29A-induced downregulation of LOX but also enhanced the TGFB1-induced upregulation of LOX. Our findings suggest that TGFB1 and MIR29A may play essential roles in the regulation of extracellular matrix remodeling during the periovulatory phase.

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Jung-Chien Cheng, Yibo Gao, Jiaye Chen, Qingxue Meng, and Lanlan Fang

In brief

Although the pro-invasive role of epidermal growth factor (EGF) has been reported in human trophoblast cells, the underlying mechanism remains largely unexplored. This work reveals that EGF-induced downregulation of connective tissue growth factor (CTGF) mediates the EGF-stimulated human trophoblast cell invasion.


During the development of the placenta, trophoblast cell invasion must be carefully regulated. Although EGF has been shown to promote trophoblast cell invasion, the underlying mechanism remains largely undetermined. Our previous study using RNA-sequencing (RNA-seq) has identified that kisspeptin-1 is a downstream target of EGF in a human trophoblast cell line, HTR-8/SVneo, and mediates EGF-stimulated cell invasion. In the present study, after re-analysis of our previous RNA-seq data, we found that the CTGF was also downregulated in response to the EGF treatment. The inhibitory effects of EGF on CTGF mRNA and protein levels were confirmed in HTR-8/SVneo cells by reverse transcription quantitative real-time PCR and western blot, respectively. Treatment with EGF activated both PI3K/AKT and ERK1/2 signaling pathways. Using pharmacological inhibitors, our results showed that EGFR-mediated activation of PI3K/AKT signaling was required for the EGF-downregulated CTGF mRNA and protein levels. Matrigel-coated transwell invasion assays demonstrated that EGF treatment stimulated cell invasion. In addition, the invasiveness of HTR-8/SVneo cells was suppressed by treatment with recombinant human CTGF. By contrast, siRNA-mediated knockdown of CTGF increased cell invasion. Notably, the EGF-promoted HTR-8/SVneo cell invasion was attenuated by co-treatment with CTGF. This study provides important insights into the molecular mechanisms mediating EGF-stimulated human trophoblast cell invasion and increases the understanding of the biological functions of CTGF in the human placenta.

Free access

Pang-Pin Liu, Hsun-Ming Chang, Jung-Chien Cheng, and Peter C K Leung

Activin A is one of the members of transforming growth factor-β superfamily that is expressed in human large luteal cells, and may act in an autocrine/paracrine manner to regulate luteal function. Prostaglandin-endoperoxide synthase 2 (PTGS2) enzyme and its derivative, prostaglandin E2 (PGE2), play significant roles in the regulation of corpus luteum formation and maintenance. To date, whether activin A can induce the expression of PTGS2 and the production of PGE2 in human granulosa-lutein cells is largely unknown. The aim of this study was to examine the effects of activin A on the regulation of PTGS2 expression and PGE2 production in human granulosa-lutein cells, and to investigate the underlying signal transduction mechanisms. In this study, the immortalized (SVOG cells) and primary human granulosa-lutein cells were used as the cell models. A TGF-β/activin type I receptor inhibitor, SB431542 and small interfering RNAs were used to investigate the activin A-induced downstream signaling pathway. We have demonstrated that activin A upregulated the expression of PTGS2 and increased the production of PGE2 via an ACVR1B-mediated SMAD2/3–SMAD4 signaling pathway. Our results suggest that activin A may be involved in the modulation of human corpus luteum formation via the induction of PTGS2 expression and PGE2 production.

Free access

Lanlan Fang, Sijia Wang, Yiran Li, Yiping Yu, Yuxi Li, Yang Yan, Jung-Chien Cheng, and Ying-Pu Sun

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is the most common cause of female infertility. Growth differentiation factor-8 (GDF-8) is expressed in the ovary and can be detected in human follicular fluid which provides an important microenvironment for maintaining physiological functions of the ovarian follicle. To date, the relationship between GDF-8 levels in follicular fluid and the risk of PCOS is completely unknown. In the present study, we show that during the process of the controlled ovarian hyperstimulation (COH), serum GDF-8 levels are higher on the day of gonadotropin administration and 14 days after embryo transfer in in vitro fertilization (IVF) patients with PCOS than they are in IVF patients without PCOS. Importantly, GDF-8 levels in follicular fluid at oocyte retrieval are also higher in PCOS patients than in non-PCOS patients. Treatment of primary human granulosa-lutein (hGL) cells with GDF-8 downregulates StAR protein expression and the inhibition is more pronounced in hGL cells from PCOS patients than it is in cells from non-PCOS patients. Importantly, high GDF-8 levels and low progesterone (P4) levels were associated with poor pregnancy outcomes in PCOS patients. Our results provide the first evidence that aberrant expression of GDF-8 in the follicular fluid of PCOS patients results in abnormal P4 expression, which leads to poor pregnancy outcomes.

Free access

Lanlan Fang, Zhen Wang, Ze Wu, Yang Yan, Yibo Gao, Yuxi Li, Jung-Chien Cheng, and Ying-Pu Sun

Matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) play a pivotal role in the regulation of cell invasion. Placental trophoblast cell invasion is a precisely regulated event. Dysregulation of MMPs has been linked to various placental diseases. Growth differentiation factor-8 (GDF-8), also known as myostatin, is a member of the transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-β) superfamily. GDF-8 and its putative receptors are expressed in human extravillous cytotrophoblast cells (EVTs). Although the pro-invasive effect of GDF-8 in human EVT cells has been recently reported, the underlying molecular mechanism remains largely unknown. In this study, we investigate the effects of GDF-8 on the expression of the two most important MMPs, MMP2 and MMP9, in the HTR-8/SVneo human EVT cell line. Our results show that GDF-8 significantly upregulates the expression of MMP2. The expression of MMP9 is not affected by GDF-8. Using a siRNA-mediated knockdown approach, we reveal that the stimulatory effect of GDF-8 on MMP2 expression is mediated by the ALK5-SMAD2/3 signaling pathway. Additionally, the knockdown of MMP2 attenuates the GDF-8-induced cell invasiveness. These findings deepen our understanding of the biological roles of GDF-8 in the regulation of human trophoblast cell invasion.