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Irene Ruiz-González, Megan Minten, Xiaoqiu Wang, Kathrin A Dunlap and Fuller W Bazer

Toll-like receptors (TLRs) belong to the innate immune system and regulate inflammatory events that affect mammalian reproduction. In Study 1, we demonstrated that abundance of ovine TLR1TLR9 mRNAs in the uterus differs due to reproductive status (TLR2, TLR3, TLR7, and TLR8) and the day of the estrous cycle and pregnancy (TLR1TLR3, TLR5TLR7, and TLR9). Expression of TLR7 and TLR8 proteins was localized primarily to uterine epithelia and stroma and regulated in a temporal manner. In Study 2, we determined that ovine conceptuses express TLR7 and TLR8 on all days studied and that expression of the envelope protein of ovine endogenous retrovirus (enJSRV-Env) declined in conceptus trophectoderm from Day 13 to Day 16 of pregnancy. In Study 3, loss-of-function experiments were conducted in vivo using morpholino antisense oligonucleotides (MAOs) injected into the uterine lumen to block synthesis of TLR7 and TLR8 proteins, individually and jointly. Conceptuses were recovered on Day 16 to assess their morphology. MAO-treated conceptuses were developmentally retarded, produced less interferon tau (IFNT), and had fewer binucleate cells (BNCs) compared with MAO-Controls. Moreover, expression of enJSRV-Env mRNA in MAO-TLR7 conceptuses was greater than that for MAO-Control and MAO-TLR8 conceptuses, but similar to MAO-TLR7/TLR8 conceptuses. Results of this study indicated differences in TLR1TLR9 expression due to reproductive status and the day of the estrous cycle and pregnancy. TLR7 and TLR8 also influence development, enJSRV-Env abundance, secretion of IFNT, and formation of BNCs by conceptuses. These findings corroborate our hypothesis that TLR7 and TLR8 mediate pathways whereby enJSRV-Env regulates key peri-implantation events in conceptus development and differentiated functions of trophectoderm cells.

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C Allison Gray, Kathrin A Dunlap, Robert C Burghardt and Thomas E Spencer

Galectin-15 is the newest member of a secreted β-galactoside-binding lectin family. The galectin-15 gene is expressed specifically by the endometrial luminal epithelium (LE) and superficial ductal glandular epithelium (sGE) of the ovine uterus. The proposed extracellular role of secreted galec7tin-15 is to regulate implantation and placentation by functioning as a heterophilic cell adhesion molecule between the conceptus trophectoderm and endometrial LE, while that of intracellular galectin-15 is to regulate cell survival, differentiation and function. The present study determined galectin-15 expression in uteroplacental tissues during gestation and in the postpartum uterus. In the uterine lumen, secreted galectin-15 was found as multimers, particularly on days 14 and 16 of pregnancy. In the endometrial epithelium and conceptus trophectoderm, intracellular galectin-15 protein was found associated with crystalline structures. Between days 20 and 120 of pregnancy, galectin-15 mRNA was expressed specifically by the LE and sGE of the intercaruncular endometrium of ewes. Immunoreactive galectin-15 protein was most abundant in the trophectoderm with lower levels in the endometrial LE and sGE. Galectin-15 protein was detected in allantoic fluid, but not in amniotic fluid. After parturition, galectin-15 mRNA declined in the endometrium from postpartum day (PPD) 1 to 28 and exhibited a variegated expression pattern in the LE and sGE. These results indicate that galectin-15 is synthesized and secreted throughout gestation by the endometrial LE/sGE and is absorbed by the placenta and forms crystals within the trophectoderm, whereas the remainder is cleared into the allantois after being transported into the fetal circulation via the placental areolae. Based on the biological properties of other galectin family members, galectin-15 is hypothesized to have biological roles in conceptus–endometrial interactions, uterine immune and inflammatory responses, and placental morphogenesis and function.

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Irene Ruiz-González, Jing Xu, Xiaoqiu Wang, Robert C Burghardt, Kathrin A Dunlap and Fuller W Bazer

Conceptus–endometrial communication during the peri-implantation period of pregnancy ensures establishment of pregnancy. We hypothesized that this dialog involves exosomes, ovine endogenous jaagsiekte retroviruses (enJSRV) and toll-like receptors (TLR) which regulate the secretion of interferon tau (IFNT), the pregnancy recognition signal in ruminants. First, exosomes isolated from uterine flushings from cyclic and pregnant ewes were analyzed for exosomal content and uterine expression of heat shock protein 70 (HSC70). Then, conceptus trophectoderm cells (oTr1) treated with different doses of exosomes were analyzed for the expression of genes involved in TLR-mediated cell signaling. The results revealed that exosomes contain mRNAs for enJSRV-ENV, HSC70, interleukins, and interferon (IFN)-regulatory factors. Exosomal content of enJSRV-ENV mRNA and protein decreased from days 10 and 12 to day 16 of gestation, and uterine expression of HSC70 increased in pregnant ewes compared with cyclic ewes. The oTr1 cells proliferated and secreted IFNT in a dose-dependent manner in response to exosomes from cyclic ewes. The expression of CD14, CD68, IRAK1, TRAF6, IRF6, and IRF7 mRNAs that are key to TLR-mediated expression of type 1 IFNs was significantly influenced by day of pregnancy. This study demonstrated that exosomes are liberated into the uterine lumen during the estrous cycle and early pregnancy; however, in pregnant ewes, exosomes stimulate trophectoderm cells to proliferate and secrete IFNT coordinately with regulation of TLR-mediated cell signaling. These results support our hypothesis that free and/or exosomal enJSRV act on the trophectoderm via TLR to induce the secretion of IFNT in a manner similar to that for innate immune responses of macrophages and plasmacytoid dendritic cells to viral pathogens.

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Daniel W Bailey, Kathrin A Dunlap, James W Frank, David W Erikson, Bryan G White, Fuller W Bazer, Robert C Burghardt and Greg A Johnson

In pigs, endometrial functions are regulated primarily by progesterone and placental factors including estrogen. Progesterone levels are high throughout pregnancy to stimulate and maintain secretion of histotroph from uterine epithelia necessary for growth, implantation, placentation, and development of the conceptus (embryo and its extra-embryonic membranes). This study determined effects of long-term progesterone on development and histoarchitecture of endometrial luminal epithelium (LE), glandular epithelium (GE), and vasculature in pigs. Pigs were ovariectomized during diestrus (day 12), and then received daily injections of either corn oil or progesterone for 28 days. Prolonged progesterone treatment resulted in increased weight and length of the uterine horns, and thickness of the endometrium and myometrium. Hyperplasia and hypertrophy of GE were not evident, but LE cell height increased, suggesting elevated secretory activity. Although GE development was deficient, progesterone supported increased endometrial angiogenesis comparable to that of pregnancy. Progesterone also supported alterations to the apical and basolateral domains of LE and GE. Dolichos biflorus agglutinin lectin binding and αv integrin were downregulated at the apical surfaces of LE and GE. Claudin-4, α2β1 integrin, and vimentin were increased at basolateral surfaces, whereas occludins-1 and -2, claudin-3, and E-cadherin were unaffected by progesterone treatment indicating structurally competent trans-epithelial adhesion and tight junctional complexes. Collectively, the results suggest that progesterone affects LE, GE, and vascular development and histoarchitecture, but in the absence of ovarian or placental factors, it does not support development of GE comparable to pregnancy. Furthermore, LE and vascular development are highly responsive to the effects of progesterone.

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Daniel W Bailey, Kathrin A Dunlap, David W Erikson, Atish K Patel, Fuller W Bazer, Robert C Burghardt and Greg A Johnson

Pigs experience significant conceptus loss near mid-gestation, correlating with increasing glandular epithelial (GE) development and secretory activity. Secreted phosphoprotein 1 (SPP1, osteopontin) increases in GE between days 30 and 40 of pregnancy and is expressed in the GE of day 90 pseudopregnant pigs, suggesting that progesterone (P4) from corpora lutea is responsible for induction of SPP1 in GE. In this study, pigs were ovariectomized and treated daily with P4 to assess effects of 40 days of P4 exposure on SPP1, P4 receptor (PGR), uteroferrin (ACP5), and fibroblast growth factor 7 (FGF7) expression in porcine endometria. PGR mRNA decreased in pigs injected with P4 compared with pigs injected with corn oil (CO), and PGRs were downregulated in the luminal epithelium (LE) and GE. ACP5 mRNA increased in pigs injected with P4 compared with pigs injected with CO, and ACP5 was induced in the GE of P4-treated pigs. FGF7 mRNA increased in pigs injected with P4 compared with pigs injected with CO, and FGF7 was induced in the LE and GE of P4-treated pigs. SPP1 mRNA was not different between pigs injected with P4 compared with pigs injected with CO, and SPP1 was not present in the GE of P4-treated pigs. Therefore, long-term P4, in the absence of ovarian and/or conceptus factors, does not induce SPP1 expression in GE. We hypothesize that a servomechanism involving sequential effects of multiple hormones and cytokines, similar to those for sheep and humans, is required for GE differentiation and function, including the synthesis and secretion of SPP1.