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Mary Lynn Johnson, Anna T Grazul-Bilska, Lawrence P Reynolds, and Dale A Redmer

Scrapie in sheep is spread laterally by placental transmission of an infectious misfolded form (PrPSc) of a normal prion protein (PrPC) used as a template in PrPSc formation. We hypothesized that PrPC would be expressed in uterine and placental tissues and estradiol-17β (E2) would affect uterine PrPC expression. PrPC expression was evaluated in the uterus of long-term ovariectomized (OVX) ewes treated with an E2 implant for 2–24 h and in uteroplacental tissues from day 20 to day 30 of pregnancy. Expression of PrPC mRNA and PrPC protein increased in the uterus after E2 treatment of OVX ewes. In the maternal placenta, expression of PrPC mRNA and PrPC protein were unchanged, but in the fetal membranes (FM) PrPC mRNA and PrPC protein expression increased from day 20 to day 28. In the nonpregnant uterus, PrPC protein was immunolocalized at apical borders of the surface epithelium, in outer smooth muscle layers of large blood vessels, and in scattered stromal cells of the deep intercaruncular areas of the uterus. In the maternal placenta, PrPC protein was immunolocalized in the cytoplasm of flattened luminal epithelial cells apposed to the FM, whereas in the FM PrPC protein was in trophoblast cells and was also in several tissues of the developing embryo during early pregnancy. These data linking estrogen stimulation to increases in PrPC expression in uteroplacental tissues suggest that PrPC has a specific function during the estrous cycle and early pregnancy. Future studies should determine whether or not estrogen influences PrPC expression in other tissues, such as the nervous system and brain.

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Alan J Conley, Erin L Legacki, C Jo Corbin, Scott Stanley, Carl R Dahlen, and Lawrence P Reynolds

Dexamethasone (DEX) initiates parturition by inducing progesterone withdrawal and affecting placental steroidogenesis, but the effects of DEX in fetal and maternal tissue steroid synthetic capacity remains poorly investigated. Blood was collected from cows at 270 days of gestation before DEX or saline (SAL) treatment, and blood and tissues were collected at slaughter 38 h later. Steroid concentrations were determined by liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry to detect multiple steroids including 5α-reduced pregnane metabolites of progesterone. The activities of 3β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase (3βHSD) in cotyledonary and luteal microsomes and mitochondria and cotyledonary microsomal 5α-reductase were assessed. Quantitative PCR was used to further assess transcripts encoding enzymes and factors supporting steroidogenesis in cotyledonary and luteal tissues. Serum progesterone, pregnenolone, 5α-dihydroprogesterone (DHP) and allopregnanolone (3αDHP) concentrations (all <5 ng/mL before treatment) decreased in cows after DEX. However, the 20α-hydroxylated metabolite of DHP, 20αDHP, was higher before treatment (≈100 ng/mL) than at slaughter but not affected by DEX. Serum, cotyledonary and luteal progesterone was lower in DEX- than SAL-treated cows. Progesterone was >100-fold higher in luteal than cotyledonary tissues, and serum and luteal concentrations were highly correlated in DEX-treated cows. 3βHSD activity was >5-fold higher in luteal than cotyledonary tissue, microsomes had more 3βHSD than mitochondria in luteal tissue but equal in cotyledonary sub-cellular fractions. DEX did not affect either luteal or cotyledonary 3βHSD activity but luteal steroidogenic enzyme transcripts were lower in DEX-treated cows. DEX induced functional luteal regression and progesterone withdrawal before any changes in placental pregnene/pregnane synthesis and/or metabolism were detectable.

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Anna T Grazul-Bilska, Chainarong Navanukraw, Mary Lynn Johnson, Daniel A Arnold, Lawrence P Reynolds, and Dale A Redmer

This study was conducted to evaluate the expression of endothelial nitric oxide synthase (eNOS) in ovarian follicles and corpora lutea (CL) throughout the estrous cycle in sheep. Three experiments were conducted to (1) immunolocalize eNOS protein, (2) determine expression of mRNA for eNOS and its receptor guanylate cyclase 1 soluble β3 (GUCY1B3), and (3) co-localize eNOS and vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) proteins in the follicles and/or CL throughout the estrous cycle. In experiment 1, ovaries were collected from ewes treated with FSH, to induce follicular growth or atresia. In experiment 2, ovaries were collected from ewes treated with FSH and hCG to induce follicular growth and ovulation. In experiment 3, ovaries were collected from superovulated ewes to generate multiple CL on days 2, 4, 10, and 15 of the estrous cycle. In experiments 1 and 2, the expression of eNOS protein was detected in the blood vessels of the theca externa and interna of healthy ovarian follicles. However, in early and advanced atretic follicles, eNOS protein expression was absent or reduced. During the immediate postovulatory period, eNOS protein expression was detected in thecal-derived cells that appeared to be invading the granulosa layer. Expression of eNOS mRNA tended to increase in granulosa cells at 12 and 24 h, and in theca cells 48 h after hCG injection. In experiment 3, eNOS protein was located in the blood vessels of the CL during the estrous cycle. Dual localization of eNOS and VEGF proteins in the CL demonstrated that both were found in the blood vessels.

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Dale A Redmer, Justin S Luther, John S Milne, Raymond P Aitken, Mary Lynn Johnson, Pawel P Borowicz, Magda A Borowicz, Lawrence P Reynolds, and Jacqueline M Wallace

To establish the basis for altered placental development and function previously observed at late gestation, fetoplacental growth and placental vascular development were measured at three stages of gestation in a nutritional paradigm of compromised pregnancy. Singleton pregnancies to a single sire were established and thereafter adolescent ewes were offered an optimal control (C) or a high (H) dietary intake. At day 50, the H group had elevated maternal insulin and amniotic glucose, whereas mass of the fetus and placenta were unaltered. At day 90, the H group exhibited elevated maternal insulin, IGF1 and glucose; fetal weight and glucose concentrations in H were increased relative to C, but placental weight was independent of nutrition. By day 130, total placentome weight in the H group was reduced by 46% and was associated with lower fetal glucose and a 20% reduction in fetal weight. As pregnancy progressed from day 50 to 130, the parameters of vascular development in the maternal and fetal components of the placenta increased. In the fetal cotyledon, high dietary intakes were associated with impaired vascular development at day 50 and an increase in capillary number at day 90. At day 130, all vascular indices were independent of nutrition. Thus, high dietary intakes to promote rapid maternal growth influence capillary development in the fetal portion of the placenta during early to mid-pregnancy and may underlie the subsequent reduction in placental mass and hence fetal nutrient supply observed during the final third of gestation.

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Anna T Grazul-Bilska, Mary Lynn Johnson, Pawel P Borowicz, Megan Minten, Jerzy J Bilski, Robert Wroblewski, Mila Velimirovich, Lindsey R Coupe, Dale A Redmer, and Lawrence P Reynolds

To characterize early fetal placental development, gravid uterine tissues were collected from pregnant ewes every other day from day 16 to 30 after mating. Determination of 1) cell proliferation was based on Ki67 protein immunodetection; 2) global methylation was based on 5-methyl-cytosine (5mC) expression and mRNA expression for DNA methyltransferases (DNMTs) 1, 3a, and 3b; and 3) vascular development was based on smooth muscle cell actin immunolocalization and on mRNA expression of several factors involved in the regulation of angiogenesis in fetal membranes (FMs). Throughout early pregnancy, the labeling index (proportion of proliferating cells) was very high (21%) and did not change. Expression of 5mC and mRNA for DNMT3b decreased, but mRNA for DNMT1 and 3a increased. Blood vessels were detected in FM on days 18–30 of pregnancy, and their number per tissue area did not change. The patterns of mRNA expression for placental growth factor, vascular endothelial growth factor, and their receptors FLT1 and KDR; angiopoietins 1 and 2 and their receptor TEK; endothelial nitric oxide synthase and the NO receptor GUCY13B; and hypoxia inducing factor 1 α changed in FM during early pregnancy. These data demonstrate high cellular proliferation rates, and changes in global methylation and mRNA expression of factors involved in the regulation of DNA methylation and angiogenesis in FM during early pregnancy. This description of cellular and molecular changes in FM during early pregnancy will provide the foundation for determining the basis of altered placental development in pregnancies compromised by environmental, genetic, or other factors.

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Anna T Grazul-Bilska, Mary Lynn Johnson, Pawel P Borowicz, Jerzy J Bilski, Taylor Cymbaluk, Spencer Norberg, Dale A Redmer, and Lawrence P Reynolds

Utero-placental growth and vascular development are critical for pregnancy establishment that may be altered by various factors including assisted reproductive technologies (ART), nutrition, or others, leading to compromised pregnancy. We hypothesized that placental vascularization and expression of angiogenic factors are altered early in pregnancies after transfer of embryos created using selected ART methods. Pregnancies were achieved through natural mating (NAT), or transfer of embryos from NAT (NAT-ET), or IVF or in vitro activation (IVA). Placental tissues were collected on day 22 of pregnancy. In maternal caruncles (CAR), vascular cell proliferation was less (P<0.05) for IVA than other groups. Compared with NAT, density of blood vessels was less (P<0.05) for IVF and IVA in fetal membranes (FM) and for NAT-ET, IVF, and IVA in CAR. In FM, mRNA expression was decreased (P<0.01–0.08) in NAT-ET, IVF, and IVA compared with NAT for vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) and its receptor FLT1, placental growth factor (PGF), neuropilin 1 (NP1) and NP2, angiopoietin 1 (ANGPT1) and ANGPT2, endothelial nitric oxide synthase 3 (NOS3), hypoxia-inducible factor 1A (HIF1A), fibroblast growth factor 2 (FGF2), and its receptor FGFR2. In CAR, mRNA expression was decreased (P<0.01–0.05) in NAT-ET, IVF, and IVA compared with NAT for VEGF, FLT1, PGF, ANGPT1, and TEK. Decreased mRNA expression for 12 of 14 angiogenic factors across FM and CAR in NAT-ET, IVF, and IVA pregnancies was associated with reduced placental vascular development, which would lead to poor placental function and compromised fetal and placental growth and development.

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Anna T Grazul-Bilska, Pawel P Borowicz, Mary Lynn Johnson, Megan A Minten, Jerzy J Bilski, Robert Wroblewski, Dale A Redmer, and Lawrence P Reynolds

Placental vascular development (angiogenesis) is critical for placental function and thus for normal embryonic/fetal growth and development. Specific environmental factors or use of assisted reproductive techniques may result in poor placental angiogenesis, which may contribute to embryonic losses and/or fetal growth retardation. Uterine tissues were collected on days 14, 16, 18, 20, 22, 24, 26, 28, and 30 after mating and on day 10 after estrus (nonpregnant controls) to determine vascular development and expression of several factors involved in the regulation of angiogenesis in the endometrium. Compared with controls, several measurements of endometrial vascularity increased (P<0.001) including vascular labeling index (LI; proportion of proliferating cells), the tissue area occupied by capillaries, area per capillary (capillary size), total capillary circumference per unit of tissue area, and expression of factor VIII (marker of endothelial cells), but capillary number decreased (P<0.001). Compared with controls, mRNA for placental growth factor, vascular endothelial growth factor receptors, angiopoietins (ANGPT) 1 and 2, ANGPT receptor TEK, endothelial nitric oxide synthase, and hypoxia-inducible factor 1α increased (P<0.05) during early pregnancy. Vascular LI was positively correlated (P<0.05) with several measurements of vascularity and with mRNA expression of angiogenic factors. These data indicate that endometrial angiogenesis, manifested by increased vascularity and increased expression of several factors involved in the regulation of angiogenesis, is initiated very early in pregnancy. This more complete description of early placental angiogenesis may provide the foundation for determining whether placental vascular development is altered in compromised pregnancies.

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Anna T Grazul-Bilska, Joel S Caton, Wendy Arndt, Kelly Burchill, Clayton Thorson, Ewa Borowczyk, Jerzy J Bilski, Dale A Redmer, Lawrence P Reynolds, and Kimberly A Vonnahme

Sheep were fed a maintenance (M) diet with adequate (A) Se or high (H) Se concentration from 21 days before breeding to day 135 of pregnancy. From day 50 to day 135 of pregnancy (tissue collection day), a portion of the ewes from ASe and HSe groups were fed restricted (R; 60% of M) diet. Fetal ovarian sections were stained for: 1) the presence of proliferating cell nuclear antigen (a marker of proliferating cells) to determine the proportion of proliferating primordial follicles, or the labeling index (LI; percentage of proliferating cells) for primordial, primary, secondary and antral follicles, stromal tissues, and blood vessels; 2) factor VIII (a marker of endothelial cells) or 3) a presence of apoptotic cells/bodies. The number of proliferating primordial follicles and the LI of primordial follicles was decreased by R and/or HSe diets. The LI was similar for theca and granulosa cells, and for secondary or antral follicles, but was greater in secondary and antral than in primordial and primary follicles. R diet and/or Se affected the LI in all follicle types, in stromal tissues and blood vessels. A dense network of blood vessels was detected in the areas containing secondary to antral follicles, medulla, and hilus, but areas containing primordial follicles were poorly vascularized. The number of apoptotic cells was minimal. These results demonstrate that nutrient restriction and/or Se level in the maternal diet affected cellular proliferation in follicles, blood vessels, and stromal tissues in fetal ovaries. Thus, plane of nutrition and Se in the maternal diet may impact fetal ovarian development and function.

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Leticia E Camacho, Allison M Meyer, Tammi L Neville, Carolyn J Hammer, Dale A Redmer, Lawrence P Reynolds, Joel S Caton, and Kimberly A Vonnahme

To investigate the effects of maternal selenium (Se) supplementation and nutritional intake during gestation on hormone changes, percentage body weight (BW) change, and organ mass in neonatal lambs, ewes were allocated to differing Se levels (adequate Se (ASe, 11.5 μg/kg BW) or high Se (HSe, 77.0 μg/kg BW)) initiated at breeding and nutritional intake (60% (RES), 100% (CON), or 140% (HIGH) of NRC requirements) initiated at day 40 of gestation. At parturition, all lambs were removed from dams, fed common diets, and BW and blood samples were collected until day 19. There was a Se×nutritional intake×day interaction for percentage BW change from birth. Lambs born to ASe-HIGH ewes tended to have decreased BW change compared with ASe-CON and ASe-RES groups on day 7. Lambs from HSe-HIGH ewes tended to have increased BW change compared with HSe-RES and HSe-CON groups from days 7 to 19. At birth, there was a Se×sex of offspring interaction, in which male lambs from HSe ewes had decreased cortisol concentrations compared with all other lambs. By 24 h, lambs from RES ewes had decreased cortisol compared with those from HIGH ewes, with lambs from CON ewes being intermediate. Lambs from RES- and CON-fed ewes had greater thyroxine than HIGH ewes at 24 h. Organ masses on day 19 were mainly impacted by maternal nutritional intake and sex of the offspring. Birth weight alone did not predict growth performance during neonatal life. Moreover, despite a similar postnatal diet, maternal nutritional plane and Se status did impact neonatal endocrine profiles. Exact mechanisms of how neonatal endocrine status can influence later growth and development need to be determined.

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Ewa Borowczyk, Mary Lynn Johnson, Jerzy J Bilski, Magda A Bilska, Dale A Redmer, Lawrence P Reynolds, and Anna T Grazul-Bilska

To evaluate the role of gap junctions in the regulation of progesterone secretion, two experiments were conducted. In Experiment 1, luteal cells obtained on days 5, 10, and 15 were cultured overnight at densities of 50×103, 100×103, 300×103, and 600×103 cells/dish in medium containing: (1) no treatment (control), (2) LH, or (3) dbcAMP. In Experiment 2, luteal cells from days 5 and 10 of the estrous cycle were transfected with siRNA, which targeted the connexin (Cx) 43 gene. In Experiment 1, progesterone secretion, Cx43 mRNA expression, and the rates of gap junctional intercellular communication (GJIC), were affected by the day of the estrous cycle, cell density, and treatments (LH or dbcAMP). The changes in progesterone secretion were positively correlated with the changes in Cx43 mRNA expression and the rates of GJIC. Cx43 was detected on the luteal cell borders in every culture, and luteal cells expressed 3β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase. In Experiment 2, two Cx43 gene-targeted sequences decreased Cx43 mRNA expression and progesterone production by luteal cells. The changes in Cx43 mRNA expression were positively correlated with changes in progesterone concentration in media. Thus, our data demonstrate a relationship between gap junctions and progesterone secretion that was supported by (1) the positive correlations between progesterone secretion and Cx43 mRNA expression and GJIC of luteal cells and (2) the inhibition of Cx43 mRNA expression by siRNA that resulted in decreased production of progesterone by luteal cells. This suggests that gap junctions may be involved in the regulation of steroidogenesis in the ovine corpus luteum.