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Jun-Ping Liu and He Li

Telomerase, an enzyme complex that binds the chromosome ends (telomeres) and maintains telomere length and integrity, is present in germ cells, proliferative granulosa cells, germline stem cells, and neoplastic cells in the ovary, but it is absent in differentiated or aged cells. Activation of telomerase in the ovary underpins both benign and malignant cell proliferation in several compartments, including the germ cells, membrana granulosa, and the ovarian surface epithelium. The difference in telomerase operation between normal and abnormal cell proliferations may lie in the mechanisms of telomerase activation in a deregulated manner. Recent studies have implicated telomerase activity in ovarian cancer as well as oogenesis and fertility. Inhibition of telomerase and the shortening of telomeres are seen in occult ovarian insufficiency. Studies of how telomerase operates and regulates ovary development may provide insight into the development of both germ cells for ovarian reproductive function and neoplastic cells in ovarian cancer. The current review summarizes the roles of telomerase in the development of oocytes and proliferation of granulosa cells during folliculogenesis and in the process of tumorigenesis. It also describes the regulation of telomerase by estrogen in the ovary.

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Yongchun Su, Yunfei Li, and Ping Ye

Despite the importance of meiosis to human reproduction, we know remarkably little about the genes and pathways that regulate meiotic progression through prophase in any mammalian species. Microarray expression profiles of mammalian gonads provide a valuable resource for probing gene networks. However, expression studies are confounded by mixed germ cell and somatic cell populations in the gonad and asynchronous germ cell populations. Further, widely used clustering methods for analyzing microarray profiles are unable to prioritize candidate genes for testing. To derive a comprehensive understanding of gene expression in mammalian meiotic prophase, we constructed conserved co-expression networks by linking expression profiles of male and female gonads across mouse and human. We demonstrate that conserved gene co-expression dramatically improved the accuracy of detecting known meiotic genes compared with using co-expression in individual studies. Interestingly, our results indicate that meiotic prophase is more conserved by sex than by species. The co-expression networks allowed us to identify genes involved in meiotic recombination, chromatin cohesion, and piRNA metabolism. Further, we were able to prioritize candidate genes based on quantitative co-expression links with known meiotic genes. Literature studies of these candidate genes suggest that some are human disease genes while others are associated with mammalian gonads. In conclusion, our co-expression networks provide a systematic understanding of cross-sex and cross-species conservations observed during meiotic prophase. This approach further allows us to prioritize candidate meiotic genes for in-depth mechanistic studies in the future.

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Jing Tong, Shile Sheng, Yun Sun, Huihui Li, Wei-Ping Li, Cong Zhang, and Zi-Jiang Chen

Good-quality oocytes are critical for the success of in vitro fertilization (IVF), but, to date, there is no marker of ovarian reserve available that can accurately predict oocyte quality. Melatonin exerts its antioxidant actions as a strong radical scavenger that might affect oocyte quality directly as it is the most potent antioxidant in follicular fluid. To investigate the precise role of endogenous melatonin in IVF outcomes, we recruited 61 women undergoing treatment cycles of IVF or intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) procedures and classified them into three groups according to their response to ovarian stimulation. Follicular fluid was collected to assess melatonin levels using a direct RIA method. We found good correlations between melatonin levels in follicular fluid with age, anti-Müllerian hormone (AMH) and baseline follicle-stimulating hormone (bFSH), all of which have been used to predict ovarian reserve. Furthermore, as melatonin levels correlated to IVF outcomes, higher numbers of oocytes were collected from patients with higher melatonin levels and consequently the number of oocytes fertilized, zygotes cleaved, top quality embryos on D3, blastocysts obtained and embryos suitable for transplantation was higher. The blastocyst rate increased in concert with the melatonin levels across the gradient between the poor response group and the high response group. These results demonstrated that the melatonin levels in follicular fluid is associated with both the quantity and quality of oocytes and can predict IVF outcomes as well making them highly relevant biochemical markers of ovarian reserve.

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Sha Peng, Jing Li, Chenglin Miao, Liwei Jia, Zeng Hu, Ping Zhao, Juxue Li, Ying Zhang, Qi Chen, and Enkui Duan

Dickkopf-1 (Dkk1) is one of the secreted antagonists in the canonical Wnt signaling pathway. It plays important roles in diverse developmental processes. However, the role of Dkk1 in trophoblast cell invasion during placentation remains unclear. In this study, we found that Dkk1 was mainly expressed in maternal decidual tissue but trivially in ectoplacental cones (EPCs) in day 8 post coitum (p.c.) pregnant mouse uterus and that the efficiency of EPC attachment and outgrowth was increased when co-cultured with decidual cells, which secreted Dkk1, and this enhancement was abolished by pretreating decidual cells with Dkk1 blocking antibody before co-culture experiment. This indicates that Dkk1 secreted by decidual cells plays an important role in trophoblast cell invasion. Indeed, when recombinant mouse Dkk1 was added to EPCs in vitro, the efficiency of attachment and outgrowth was increased. Migration of EPCs toward the decidua was retarded when antisense Dkk1 oligonucleotide (ODN) was administered via intrauterine injection in vivo. Furthermore, the active β-catenin nuclear location was lost when we treated cultured EPCs with recombinant mouse Dkk1, and the efficiency of EPCs attachment and outgrowth was obviously increased when we treated cultured EPCs with antisense β-catenin ODN. Taken together, Dkk1 secreted by decidual cells may induce trophoblast cell invasion in the mouse and β-catenin may be involved in such functions of Dkk1.

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Chunming Guo, Xiaotian Ni, Ping Zhu, Wenjiao Li, Xiaoou Zhu, and Kang Sun

Cytosolic phospholipase A2 α (cPLA, now known as PLA2G4A) is the enzyme catalyzing the formation of the rate-limiting substrate, arachidonic acid, for prostaglandin (PG) synthesis. The increasing expression of PLA2G4A toward term gestation in human amnion fibroblasts is believed to be the crucial event in parturition. Human amnion fibroblasts produce cortisol, progesterone and express glucocorticoid receptor (GR), progesterone receptor A (PGRA) form at term. The roles of progesterone and PGRA in the induction of PLA2G4A by cortisol via GR in the amnion fibroblasts remain largely unknown. Using cultured human term amnion fibroblasts, we found that cortisol induced the expression of PGRA, which was attenuated by inhibiting PG synthesis with indomethacin. Knockdown of PGRA expression or inhibition of endogenous progesterone production with trilostane significantly enhanced the induction of PLA2G4A by cortisol, whereas overexpression of PGRA attenuated the induction of PLA2G4A by cortisol. Although exogenous progesterone did not alter PLA2G4A expression under basal conditions, it attenuated cortisol-induced PLA2G4A expression at concentrations about tenfold higher, which might be achieved by competition with cortisol for GR. In conclusion, PGRA in the presence of endogenous progesterone is a transdominant repressor of the induction of PLA2G4A by cortisol. High level of progesterone may compete with cortisol for GR, thus further inhibiting the induction of PLA2G4A by cortisol. Moreover, increased PG synthesis by cortisol may feed back on the expression of PGRA leading to attenuation of cortisol-induced PLA2G4A expression. The above findings may be pertinent to the inconsistent effects of glucocorticoids on parturition in humans.

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Kaiyue Zhang, Wanxia Zhong, Wei-Ping Li, Zi-Jiang Chen, and Cong Zhang

Poor ovarian response is a significant problem encountered during in vitro fertilization and embryo transfer procedures. Many infertile women may suffer from poor ovarian response and its incidence tends to be increasing in young patients nowadays. It is a major cause of maternal infertility because it is associated with low pregnancy and live birth rates. However, the cause of poor ovarian response is not clear. In this study, we extracted microRNAs from human follicular fluid and performed miRNA sequencing to investigate a potential posttranscriptional mechanism underlying poor ovarian response. The results showed that many miRNAs were obviously different between the poor ovarian response and non-poor ovarian response groups. We then performed quantitative polymerase chain reaction, Western blot analysis and used an in vitro culture system to verify the sequencing results and to study the mechanism. Notably, we found that miRNA-15a-5p was significantly elevated in the young poor ovarian response group. Furthermore, we demonstrated that high levels of miR-15a-5p in the young poor ovarian response group repressed granulosa cell proliferation by regulating the PI3K-AKT-mTOR signaling pathway and promoted apoptosis through BCL2 and BAD. This could explain the reduced oocyte retrieval number seen in poor ovarian response patients.

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Hui Li, Yu-Han Meng, Wen-Qing Shang, Li-Bing Liu, Xuan Chen, Min-Min Yuan, Li-Ping Jin, Ming-Qing Li, and Da-Jin Li

Chemokine CCL24, acting through receptor CCR3, is a potent chemoattractant for eosinophil in allergic diseases and parasitic infections. We recently reported that CCL24 and CCR3 are co-expressed by trophoblasts in human early pregnant uterus. Here we prove with evidence that steroid hormones estradiol (E), progesterone (P), and human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), as well as decidual stromal cells (DSCs) could regulate the expression of CCL24 and CCR3 of trophoblasts. We further investigate how trophoblast-derived CCL24 mediates the function of trophoblasts in vitro, and conclude that CCL24/CCR3 promotes the proliferation, viability and invasiveness of trophoblasts. In addition, analysis of the downstream signaling pathways of CCL24/CCR3 show that extracellular signal-regulated kinases (ERK1/2) and phosphoinositide 3-kinase (PI3K) pathways may contribute to the proliferation, viability and invasiveness of trophoblasts by activating intracellular molecules Ki67 and matrix metallopeptidase 9 (MMP9). However, we did not observe any inhibitory effect on trophoblasts when blocking c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK) or p38 pathways. In conclusion, our data suggests that trophoblast-derived CCL24 at the maternal-fetal interface promotes trophoblasts cell growth and invasiveness by ERK1/2 and PI3K pathways. Meanwhile, pregnancy-related hormones (P and hCG), as well as DSCs could up-regulate CCL24/CCR3 expression in trophoblasts, which may indirectly influence the biological functions of trophoblasts. Thus, our results provide a possible explanation for the growth and invasion of trophoblasts in human embryo implantation.

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Ping Zhou, Yan-Guang Wu, Qing Li, Guo-Cheng Lan, Gang Wang, Da Gao, and Jing-He Tan

To improve in vitro maturation (IVM) of denuded oocytes (DOs), we observed the interactive effects of cysteamine, cystine and cumulus cells on the glutathione (l-γ-glutamyl-l-cysteinyl-glycine; GSH) level and developmental capacity of goat IVM oocytes. Cysteamine supplementation increased the GSH level and blastocyst rates of both cumulus–oocyte complexes (COCs) and DOs, while the addition of cystine increased the GSH level and blastulation only in the presence of cumulus cells (COCs or DOs co-cultured on a cumulus cell monolayer). Simultaneous supplementation of cysteamine and cystine increased the GSH content and blastulation of co-cultured DOs to a level similar to that of COCs matured without thiol supplementation. Co-culture without thiol supplementation improved DOs' GSH synthesis but not blastulation. The results suggest that DOs cannot utilize cystine for GSH synthesis unless exogenous cysteamine is supplied by either cumulus cells or supplementation. Thus, while the addition of cystine alone is enough to improve IVM of COCs, improvement of DOs requires supplementation of both cystine and cysteamine. Synergic actions between cysteamine, cystine and cumulus cells restore the GSH level and developmental capacity of goat DOs.

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Jun-Zuo Wang, Hong-Shu Sui, De-Qiang Miao, Na Liu, Ping Zhou, Li Ge, and Jing-He Tan

The objectives of this study were to investigate the effect of heat stress during in vitro maturation on the developmental potential of mouse oocytes and to determine whether the deleterious effect was on the nuclear or cytoplasmic component. While rates of oocyte nuclear maturation (development to the metaphase II stage) did not differ from 37 to 40 °C, rates for blastocyst formation decreased significantly as maturation temperature increased from 38.5 to 39 °C. Chromosome spindle exchange showed that while blastocyst formation did not differ when spindles matured in vivo or in vitro at 37, 40 or 40.7 °C were transplanted into in vivo matured cytoplasts, no blastocyst formation was observed when in vivo spindles were transferred into the 40 °C cytoplasts. While oocytes reconstructed between 37 °C ooplasts and 37 or 40 °C karyoplasts developed into 4-cell embryos at a similar rate, no oocytes reconstituted between 40 °C ooplasts and 37 °C spindles developed to the 4-cell stage. Immunofluorescence microscopy revealed impaired migration of cortical granules and mitochondria in oocytes matured at 40 °C compared with oocytes matured at 37 °C. A decreased glutathione/GSSG ratio was also observed in oocytes matured at 40 °C. While spindle assembling was normal and no MAD2 was activated in oocytes matured at 37 or 40 °C, spindle assembling was affected and MAD2 was activated in some of the oocytes matured at 40.7 °C. It is concluded that 1) oocyte cytoplasmic maturation is more susceptible to heat stress than nuclear maturation, and 2) cytoplasmic rather than nuclear components determine the pre-implantation developmental capacity of an oocyte.

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Zi-gang Shen, Wei He, Ji Zhang, Hai-yang He, Xia Yang, Zheng-qiong Chen, Ping Yang, Jian Li, Zhi-qing Liang, Yu-zhang Wu, and Jin-tao Li

SPINLW1 (previously known as eppin (epididymal protease inhibitor)) is a target under intense scrutiny in the study of male contraceptive vaccines. B-cell-dominant epitopes are now recognized as key parts of the induction of humoral immune responses against target antigens. The generation of robust humoral responses in vivo has become a crucial problem in the development of modern vaccines. In this study, we developed a completely novel B-cell-dominant-epitope-based mimovirus vaccine, which is a kind of virus-size particulate antigen delivery system. The mimovirus successfully self-assembled from a cationic peptide containing a cell-penetrating peptide of TAT49–57 and a plasmid DNA encoding both three SPINLW1 (103–115) copies and adjuvant C3d3. The male mice were immunized with the epitope-based mimovirus vaccine, which resulted in a gradual elevation of specific serum IgG antibody levels. These reached a peak at week 4. Mating for the fertility assay showed that the mimovirus vaccine had accomplished a moderate fertility inhibition effect and investigation into the mechanism of action showed that it did so by interfering with the reproductive function of the sperm but that it did not damage the structures of the testes or cause serum testosterone to decline. Our results suggest an ideal protocol for suppressing fertility in mice by an engineered mimovirus vaccine.