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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.

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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.

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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.