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Li Wang and Chen Xu

microRNAs (miRNAs) are a class of small endogenous RNAs, 19–25 nucleotides in size, which play a role in the regulation of gene expression at transcriptional and post-transcriptional levels. Spermatogenesis is a complex process through which spermatogonial stem cells (SSCs) proliferate and differentiate into mature spermatozoa. A large number of miRNAs are abundantly expressed in spermatogenic cells. Growing evidence supports the essential role of miRNA regulation in normal spermatogenesis and male fertility and cumulative research has shown that this form of regulation contributes to the etiology of testicular germ cell tumors (TGCTs). In this review, we addressed recent advancements of miRNA expression profiles in testis and focused on the regulatory functions of miRNA in the process of SSC renewal, spermatogonial mitosis, spermatocyte meiosis, spermiogenesis, and the occurrence of TGCTs.

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Rongli Wang and Li Zou

A successful pregnancy crucially depends on well-regulated extravillous trophoblast migration and invasion. Maternally expressed gene 3 (MEG3) is a long noncoding RNA that plays an important role in regulating trophoblast cells cell function. As previously reported, the expression of MEG3 was reduced in preeclampsia, and downregulation of MEG3 could suppress trophoblast cells migration and promote its apoptosis. However, the downstream regulatory mechanism of MEG3 remains unknown. As reported, MEG3 could inhibit cell proliferation in endometrial carcinoma by regulating Notch signaling. Our previous studies have demonstrated that Notch1 is downregulated in preeclampsia and that inhibiting the expression of Notch1 could promote trophoblast cell apoptosis. Therefore, this study was designed to investigate the role of MEG3 and its the relationship with Notch1 in trophoblasts. In this study, the mRNA expression levels of both MEG3 and Notch1 were decreased in preeclampsia placenta (n = 15) compared to the normal samples (n = 15). Exogenous upregulation and downregulation of MEG3 in HTR8/SVneo cells were performed to investigate the role of MEG3 in cell biological behavior and its effects on Notch1 expression. The results showed that MEG3 enhancement promoted trophoblast cell migration and invasion and inhibited cell apoptosis. Downregulation of MEG3 elicited the opposite results. Associated factors, such as matrix metalloproteinases 2 (MMP2), BAX, and Bcl-2, were examined at the mRNA and protein levels. Our study demonstrated that MEG3 could regulate Notch1 expression to modulate trophoblast cell migration, invasion, and apoptosis, which may represent the molecular mechanism of poor placentation during preeclampsia.

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Wei Wang, Xia Chen, Xinxiu Li, Li Wang, Haiyan Zhang, Yu He, Jingjing Wang, Yongyan Zhao, Baole Zhang and Yinxue Xu

FSH plays a critical role in granulosa cell (GC) proliferation and steroidogenesis through modulation by factors including bone morphogenetic proteins family, which belongs to transforming growth factor β (TGFB) superfamily. TGFBs are the key factors in maintaining cell growth and differentiation in ovaries. However, the interaction of FSH and TGFB on the GCs' proliferation and steroidogenesis remains to be elucidated. In this study, we have investigated the role of SMAD4, a core molecule mediating the intracellular TGFB/SMAD signal transduction pathway, in FSH-mediated proliferation and steroidogenesis of porcine GCs. In this study, SMAD4 was knocked down using interference RNA in porcine GCs. Our results showed that SMAD4-siRNA causes specific inhibition of SMAD4 mRNA and protein expression after transfection. Knockdown of SMAD4 significantly inhibited FSH-induced porcine GC proliferation and estradiol production and changed the expression of cyclin D2, CDK2, CDK4, CYP19a1, and CYP11a1. Thus, these observations establish an important role of SMAD4 in the regulation of the response of porcine GCs to FSH.

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YF Tan, FX Li, YS Piao, XY Sun and YL Wang

Many genes related to the cyclic changes of the uterus during the oestrous cycle have been identified using a one-by-one approach. In the present study, cDNA microarray technology was applied to investigate the global profile of gene expression of mouse uterus at the oestrous and dioestrous stages. At a certain stage of the oestrous cycle, the uteri of mature CD-1 mice (n=10) were removed, pooled and snap-frozen in liquid nitrogen. Total RNA was extracted to synthesize cDNA probes for microarray assay. By screening 8192 mouse genes and expressed sequence tags (ESTs), 51 upregulated and 51 downregulated genes were identified in oestrous uterus, of which 62 are well characterized and 40 are ESTs. The known genes were assigned to various gene categories according to their main function. The microarray was performed three times with three independent sets of uterine tissue pools. The results of northern blot analysis for small proline-rich protein 2 (Sprr2), 17beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 2 (17betaHSD-2), high mobility group 2 (Hmg2), mitotic checkpoint component 2 (Mad2) and an EST AW555366 mRNA were consistent with that of microarray analysis. In situ hybridization was performed to localize the transcript of the EST AW555366. Most of the upregulated genes encode secreted immune-related proteins, proteinases and their inhibitors, indicating their potential involvement in sperm viability as well as capacitation. The downregulated genes mainly encode cell cycle-related factors, implying the active proliferation of uterus at dioestrus.

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Lihua Yao, Mingyang Li, Jingwen Hu, Wangsheng Wang and Minzhi Gao

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a major cause of infertility in women of reproductive age. However, its exact etiology remains unknown. In this study, we sequenced miRNAs in human follicular fluid and identified 16 downregulated and 3 upregulated miRNAs in PCOS group compared with non-PCOS group. Among the differential expressed miRNAs, miR-335-5p was verified lower abundance in PCOS than non-PCOS group using quantitative real-time PCR. Besides, miR-335-5p negatively correlated with antral follicle count, anti-Müllerian hormone and total testosterone. Bioinformatics analysis identified serum/glucocorticoid-regulated kinase family member 3 (SGK3) as a potential target gene of miR-335-5p. SGK3 is involved in protein kinase B-mammalian target of rapamycin kinase (AKT-mTOR) signaling pathway and cell proliferation. Western blotting and cell counting kit-8 assays demonstrated that miR-335-5p mimic reduced, while miR-335-5p inhibitor increased, SGK3 abundance, AKT-mTOR pathway and cell proliferation in human granulosa-like tumor KGN cells. Dual-luciferase reporter assays showed that miR-335-5p binds to the 3′ untranslated region of SGK3 mRNA. Furthermore, miR-335-5p was decreased and SGK3 was elevated in human granulosa cells obtained from PCOS patients as compared with non-PCOS controls. These findings suggested that miR-335-5p is involved in granulosa cells proliferation by reducing SGK3 expression, which might provide a molecular target to improve dysfunctional granulosa cells in patients with PCOS.

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Yang Gao, Haixia Wen, Chao Wang and Qinglei Li

Transforming growth factor β (TGFβ) superfamily signaling is essential for female reproduction. Dysregulation of the TGFβ signaling pathway can cause reproductive diseases. SMA and MAD (mothers against decapentaplegic) (SMAD) proteins are downstream signaling transducers of the TGFβ superfamily. SMAD7 is an inhibitory SMAD that regulates TGFβ signaling in vitro. However, the function of SMAD7 in the ovary remains poorly defined. To determine the signaling preference and potential role of SMAD7 in the ovary, we herein examined the expression, regulation, and function of SMAD7 in mouse granulosa cells. We showed that SMAD7 was expressed in granulosa cells and subject to regulation by intraovarian growth factors from the TGFβ superfamily. TGFB1 (TGFβ1), bone morphogenetic protein 4, and oocyte-derived growth differentiation factor 9 (GDF9) were capable of inducing Smad7 expression, suggesting a modulatory role of SMAD7 in a negative feedback loop. Using a small interfering RNA approach, we further demonstrated that SMAD7 was a negative regulator of TGFB1. Moreover, we revealed a link between SMAD7 and GDF9-mediated oocyte paracrine signaling, an essential component of oocyte–granulosa cell communication and folliculogenesis. Collectively, our results suggest that SMAD7 may function during follicular development via preferentially antagonizing and/or fine-tuning essential TGFβ superfamily signaling, which is involved in the regulation of oocyte–somatic cell interaction and granulosa cell function.

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Hemin Zhang, Desheng Li, Chendong Wang and Vanessa Hull

Successful conservation of an endangered species relies on a good understanding of its reproductive biology, but there are large knowledge gaps. For example, many questions remain unanswered with regard to gestation and fetal development in the giant panda. We take advantage of a sample size that is unprecedented for this species (n=13) to explore patterns in reproductive development across individuals at the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda. We use ultrasound techniques on multiple giant pandas for the first time to empirically confirm what has long been suspected that pandas exhibit delayed implantation of the embryo. We also show that the duration of postfetal detection period is remarkably similar across individuals (16.85±1.34 days). Detection of fetus by ultrasound was strongly correlated to the peak in urinary progesterone (r=0.96, t=8.48, d.f.=8, P=0.0001) and swelling in the mammary glands (r=0.79, t=3.61, d.f.=8, P=0.007) and vulva (r=0.91, t=6.40, d.f.=8, P=0.0002) of adult females. When controlling for both the duration of the total gestation period and the postfetal detection period, infant birth weight was only significantly predicted by the latter (β=11.25, s.e.m.=4.98, t=2.26, P=0.05), suggesting that delayed implantation increases flexibility in the timing of birth but is not important in dictating infant growth. This study informs reproductive biology by exploring the little-studied phenomenon of delayed implantation in relationship to physiological changes in pregnant giant panda females.

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Dong Han, Xin-Yan Cao, Hui-Li Wang, Jing-Jing Li, Yan-Bo Wang and Jing-He Tan

Although studies suggest that the low competence of oocytes from prepubertal animals is due to their insufficient cytoplasmic maturation and that FSH improves oocyte maturation possibly by retarding meiotic progression and allowing more time for cytoplasmic maturation, the mechanisms by which puberty and gonadotropins regulate meiotic progression require additional detailed studies. For the first time, we observed that while meiotic progression was significantly slower, the maturation-promoting factor (MPF) activity of oocytes was significantly higher in prepubertal than in adult mice. To resolve this contradiction, we specified the molecules regulating the MPF activity and their localization during oocyte maturation in prepubertal and adult mice primed with or without gonadotropins. Our tests using corresponding enzyme regulators suggested that while activities of protein kinase A were unaffected, the activity of adenylate cyclase (ADCY) and phosphodiesterase increased while cell division cycle 2 homolog A (CDC2A) decreased significantly after puberty. While most of the adult oocytes had CDC2A protein concentrated in the germinal vesicle (GV) region, the majority of prepubertal oocytes showed no nuclear concentration of CDC2A. Maximally priming mice with equine chorionic gonadotropin brought the above parameters of prepubertal oocytes close to those in adult oocytes. Together, the results suggest that puberty and gonadotropin control oocyte meiotic progression mainly by regulating the ADCY activity and the concentration of the activated MPF toward the GV region.

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Kun Li, Yue Liu, Xiaoyu Xia, Li Wang, Meige Lu, Yanqin Hu and Chen Xu

Bactericidal/permeability-increasing protein (BPI) is a 455-residue (∼55 kDa) protein found mainly in the primary (azurophilic) granules of human neutrophils. BPI is an endogenous antibiotic protein that belongs to the family of mammalian lipopolysaccharide (LPS)-binding and lipid transport proteins. Its major function is to kill Gram-negative bacteria, thereby protecting the host from infection. In addition, BPI can inhibit angiogenesis, suppress LPS-mediated platelet activation, increase DNA synthesis, and activate ERK/Akt signaling. In this study, we found that Bpi was expressed in the testis and epididymis but not in the seminal vesicles, prostate, and solidification glands. BPI expression in the epididymis increased upon upregulation of testosterone, caused by injection of GNRH. In orchidectomized mice, BPI expression was significantly reduced, but its expression was restored to 30% of control levels in orchidectomized mice that received supplementary testosterone. The number of sperm fused per egg significantly decreased after incubation with anti-BPI antiserum. These results suggest that BPI may take part in the process of sperm–oocyte fusion and play a unique and significant role in reproduction.

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Min An, Dong Li, Ming Yuan, Qiuju Li, Lu Zhang and Guoyun Wang

Endometrial cells and microenvironment are two important factors in the pathogenesis of adenomyosis. Our previous study demonstrated that macrophages can induce eutopic epithelial cells of adenomyosis to suffer from epithelial–mesenchymal transition (EMT). The aim of this study is to detect whether macrophages interacting with epithelial cells equally induce the EMT process in normal and eutopic endometria of healthy and adenomyotic patients; and whether macrophages parallelly polarize to M2. We investigated the expression levels of epithelial cadherin (E-cadherin), neural cadherin (N-cadherin), cytokeratin7 (CK7), vimentin, transforming growth factor-β1 (TGFB1), SMAD3 and pSMAD3 using immunohistochemistry and western blot, and then estimated the genetic levels of CD163, IL10 and MMP12 using real-time quantitative polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) in macrophages. Eutopic and normal endometrial tissues were obtained from 20 patients with adenomyosis and 11 control patients without adenomyosis, respectively. The immunohistochemical analysis shows distinct EMT in eutopic endometria in secretory phase; the expression levels of TGFB1, SMAD3 and pSMAD3 that indicate signal pathway of EMT were also higher in secretory phase. Macrophages can induce EMT process in primary endometrial epithelial cells derived from normal and eutopic endometria. After co-culturing, THP-1-derived macrophages polarized to M2. Compared with the eutopic endometrium group, further polarization to M2 was observed in the normal endometrium group. These results indicate that adenomyosis may be promoted by the pathologic EMT of epithelial cells, which is induced by macrophages that incapably polarize to M2.