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Qing-Yuan Sun and Heide Schatten

Actin filaments (microfilaments) regulate various dynamic events during oocyte meiotic maturation and fertilization. In most species, microfilaments are not required for germinal vesicle breakdown and meiotic spindle formation, but they mediate peripheral nucleus (chromosome) migration, cortical spindle anchorage, homologous chromosome separation, cortex development/maintenance, polarity establishment, and first polar body emission during oocyte maturation. Peripheral cortical granule migration is controlled by microfilaments, while mitochondria movement is mediated by microtubules. During fertilization, microfilaments are involved in sperm incorporation, spindle rotation (mouse), cortical granule exocytosis, second polar body emission and cleavage ring formation, but are not required for pronuclear apposition (except for the mouse). Many of the events are driven by the dynamic interactions between myosin and actin filaments whose polymerization is regulated by RhoA, Cdc42, Arp2/3 and other signaling molecules. Studies have also shown that oocyte cortex organization and polarity formation mediated by actin filaments are regulated by mitogen-activated protein kinase, myosin light-chain kinase, protein kinase C and its substrate p-MARKS as well as PAR proteins. The completion of several dynamic events, including homologous chromosome separation, spindle anchorage, spindle rotation, vesicle organelle transport and pronuclear apposition (mouse), requires interactions between microfilaments and microtubules, but determination of how the two systems of the cytoskeleton precisely cross-link, and which proteins link microfilaments to microtubules to perform functions in eggs, requires further studies. Finally, the meaning of microfilament-mediated oocyte polarity versus embryo polarity and embryo development in different species (Drosophila, Xenopus and mouse) is discussed.

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Heide Schatten and Qing-Yuan Sun

In non-rodent mammalian species, including humans, the oocyte and sperm both contribute centrosomal components that are most important for successful fertilization. Centrosome pathologies in sperm and the oocyte can be causes for infertility which may be overcome by assisted reproductive technologies based on proper diagnosis of specific centrosomal pathologies. However, we do not yet fully understand the cell and molecular mechanisms underlying centrosome functions in germ cells and in the developing embryo, which calls for directed specific investigations to identify centrosome-related pathologies that include components in sperm, egg, or centrosome regulation within the fertilized oocyte. The present review highlights cellular and molecular aspects of centrosomes and centrosome–nuclear interactions focused on nuclear mitotic apparatus protein during fertilization and proposes future directions in expanding therapeutic approaches related to centrosome pathologies that may play a role in still unexplained causes of infertility.

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Zhen-Yu Zheng, Qing-Zhang Li, Da-Yuan Chen, Heide Schatten and Qing-Yuan Sun

The protein kinase Cs (PKCs) are a family of Ser/Thr protein kinases categorized into three subfamilies: classical, novel, and atypical. The phosphorylation of PKC in germ cells is not well defined. In this study, we described the subcellular localization of phopho-PKC in the process of mouse oocyte maturation, fertilization, and early embryonic mitosis. Confocal microscopy revealed that phospho-PKC (pan) was distributed abundantly in the nucleus at the germinal vesicle stage. After germinal vesicle breakdown, phospho-PKC was localized in the vicinity of the condensed chromosomes, distributed in the whole meiotic spindle, and concentrated at the spindle poles. After metaphase I, phospho-PKC was translocated gradually to the spindle mid-zone during emission of the first polar body. After sperm penetration and electrical activation, the distribution of phospho-PKC was moved from the spindle poles to the spindle mid-zone. After the extrusion of the second polar body (PB2) phospho-PKC was localized in the area between the oocyte and the PB2. In fertilized eggs, phospho-PKC was concentrated in the pronuclei except for the nucleolus. Phospho-PKC was dispersed after pronuclear envelope breakdown, but distributed on the entire spindle at mitotic metaphase. The results suggest that PKC activation may play important roles in regulating spindle organization and stabilization, polar-body extrusion, and nuclear activity during mouse oocyte meiosis, fertilization, and early embryonic mitosis.

Open access

Zhao-Jia Ge, Heide Schatten, Cui-Lian Zhang and Qing-Yuan Sun

It has become a current social trend for women to delay childbearing. However, the quality of oocytes from older females is compromised and the pregnancy rate of older women is lower. With the increased rate of delayed childbearing, it is becoming more and more crucial to understand the mechanisms underlying the compromised quality of oocytes from older women, including mitochondrial dysfunctions, aneuploidy and epigenetic changes. Establishing proper epigenetic modifications during oogenesis and early embryo development is an important aspect in reproduction. The reprogramming process may be influenced by external and internal factors that result in improper epigenetic changes in germ cells. Furthermore, germ cell epigenetic changes might be inherited by the next generations. In this review, we briefly summarise the effects of ageing on oocyte quality. We focus on discussing the relationship between ageing and epigenetic modifications, highlighting the epigenetic changes in oocytes from advanced-age females and in post-ovulatory aged oocytes as well as the possible underlying mechanisms.

Open access

Jie Mei, Yuan Yan, Shi-Yuan Li, Wen-Jie Zhou, Qun Zhang, Ming-Qing Li and Hai-Xiang Sun

Decidualization renders the endometrium transiently receptive to an implanting blastocyst although the underlying mechanisms remain incompletely understood. The aim of this study was to determine the role of chemokine CXCL16 and its receptor CXCR6 in the decidualization during pregnancy. Here, the expression of CXCL16 was investigated in endometrial tissues, decidua and placenta in this study. Compared with endometrial tissue, protein expression of CXCL16 was significantly higher in tissues from the fertile control samples, especially in villus. Meanwhile, the primary trophoblast cells and decidual stromal cells (DSCs) secreted more CXCL16 and expressed higher CXCR6 compared to endometrial stromal cells (ESCs) in vitro. Stimulation with the inducer of decidualization (8-bromoadenosine 3′,5′-cyclic with medroxyprogesterone acetate, 8-Br-cAMP plus MPA) significantly upregulated the expression of CXCL16 and CXCR6 in ESCs in vitro. After treatment with exogenous recombinant human CXCL16 (rhCXCL16) or trophoblast-secreted CXLC16, decidualised ESCs showed a significant decidual response, mainly characterised by increased prolactin (PRL) secretion. Simultaneously, PI3K/PDK1/AKT/Cyclin D1 pathway in decidualised ESCs were activated by rhCXCL16, and AKT inhibitor GS 690693 abolished the PRL secretion of ESCs that was triggered by rhCXCL16. Finally, the impaired CXCL16/CXCR6 expression could be observed at the maternal–foetal interface from patients who have experienced spontaneous abortion. This study suggests that the CXCL16/CXCR6 axis contributes to the progression of ESC decidualization by activating PI3K/PDK1/AKT/Cyclin D1 pathway. It unveils a new paradigm at the maternal–foetal interface in which CXCL16 is an initiator for the molecular crosstalk that enhances decidualization of ESCs.

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Yong-Hai Li, Yi Hou, Wei Ma, Jin-Xiang Yuan, Dong Zhang, Qing-Yuan Sun and Wei-Hua Wang

CD9 is a cell surface protein that participates in many cellular processes, such as cell adhesion. Fertilization involves sperm and oocyte interactions including sperm binding to oocytes and sperm–oocyte fusion. Thus CD9 may play an essential role during fertilization in mammals. The present study was conducted to examine whether CD9 is present in porcine gametes and whether it participates in the regulation of sperm–oocyte interactions. The presence of CD9 in ovarian tissues, oocytes and spermatozoa was examined by immunohistochemistry, immunofluorescence and immunoblotting. Sperm binding and penetration of oocytes treated with CD9 antibody were examined by in vitro fertilization. The results showed that CD9 was present on the plasma membrane of oocytes at different developmental stages. A 24 kDa protein was found in oocytes during in vitro maturation by immunoblotting and its quantity was significantly (P < 0.001) increased as oocytes underwent maturation and reached the highest level after the oocytes had been cultured for 44 h. No positive CD9 staining was found in the spermatozoa. Both sperm binding to ooplasma and sperm penetration into oocytes were significantly (P < 0.01) reduced in anti-CD9 antibody-treated oocytes (1.2 ± 0.2 per oocyte and 16.6% respectively) as compared with oocytes in the controls (2.5 ± 0.4 per oocyte and 70.3% respectively). These results indicated that CD9 is expressed in pig oocytes during early growth and meiotic maturation and that it participates in sperm–oocyte interactions during fertilization.

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Yun-Kao Cao, Zhi-Sheng Zhong, Da-Yuan Chen, Gui-Xue Zhang, Heide Schatten and Qing-Yuan Sun

The small GTPase Ran controls numerous cellular processes of the mitotic cell cycle. In this experiment, we investigated the localization and possible roles of Ran during mouse oocyte meiotic maturation, fertilization and early cleavage by using confocal laser scanning microscopy, antibody microinjection and microtubule disturbance. The results showed that Ran was localized mainly in the nucleus (except for the nucleolus) in the oocyte, zygote and early embryo. At pro-metaphase of meiosis I, Ran distributed throughout the cell, but predominantly concentrated around the condensed chromosomes. During the completion of meiosis I and meiosis II, it concentrated to the meiotic spindle microtubules except for the midbody region. After sperm penetration, Ran dispersed with the extrusion of the second polar body and gradually concentrated in the male and female pronuclei thereafter. Ran was also observed to exist diffusely in the cytoplasm in prophase; it concentrated at the mitotic spindle, and migrated to the nucleus during early cleavage. Ran’s concentration around the spindle disappeared when microtubule assembly was inhibited by colchicine, while it was concentrated around the chromosomes after microtubule stabilization with taxol treatment. Ran did not display any role in cytokinesis during division when pseudo-cleavage of germinal vesicle-intact oocytes was induced. Anti-Ran antibody microinjection decreased the germinal vesicle breakdown and the first polar body extrusion, and distorted spindle organization and chromosome alignment. Our results indicate that Ran has a cell cycle-dependent localization and may have regulatory roles in cell cycle progression and microtubule organization in mouse oocytes, fertilized eggs and early embryos.

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Xiao-Qian Meng, Ke-Gang Zheng, Yong Yang, Man-Xi Jiang, Yan-Ling Zhang, Qing-Yuan Sun and Yun-Long Li

Microfilaments (actin filaments) regulate various dynamic events during meiotic maturation. Relatively, little is known about the regulation of microfilament organization in mammalian oocytes. Proline-rich tyrosine kinase2 (Pyk2), a protein tyrosine kinase related to focal adhesion kinase (FAK) is essential in actin filaments organization. The present study was to examine the expression and localization of Pyk2, and in particular, its function during rat oocyte maturation. For the first time, by using Western blot and confocal laser scanning microscopy, we detected the expression of Pyk2 in rat oocytes and found that Pyk2 and Try402 phospho-Pyk2 were localized uniformly at the cell cortex and surrounded the germinal vesicle (GV) or the condensed chromosomes at the GV stage or after GV breakdown. At the metaphase and the beginning of anaphase, Pyk2 distributed asymmetrically both in the ooplasm and the cortex with a marked staining associated with the chromosomes and the region overlying the meiotic spindle. At telophase, Pyk2 was observed in the cleavage furrows in addition to its cortex and cytoplasm localization. The dynamics of Pyk2 were similar to that of F-actin, and this kinase was found to co-localize with microfilaments in several developmental stages during rat oocyte maturation. Microinjection of Pyk2 antibody demolished the microfilaments assembly and also inhibited the first polar body (PB1) emission. These findings suggest an important role of Pyk2 for rat oocyte maturation by regulating the organization of actin filaments.

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Li-Jun Huo, Cheng-Guang Liang, Ling-Zhu Yu, Zhi-Sheng Zhong, Zeng-Ming Yang, Heng-Yu Fan, Da-Yuan Chen and Qing-Yuan Sun

The present study investigated the subcellular localization of inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS) during mouse oocyte meiotic maturation and fertilization using confocal microscopy, and further studied the roles of iNOS-derived NO in oocyte maturation by using an iNOS-specific inhibitor aminoguanidine (AG) and iNOS antibody microinjection. In germinal vesicle-stage oocytes, iNOS immunoreactivity was mainly localized in the germinal vesicle. Shortly after germinal vesicle breakdown, the iNOS immunoreactivity accumulated around the condensed chromosomes. At metaphase I and metaphase II, with the organization of chromosomes to the equatorial plate, iNOS immunoreactivity was concentrated around the aligned chromosomes, putatively the position of the metaphase spindle. The accumulation of iNOS immunoreactivity could not be detected at anaphase I and anaphase II. However, at telophase I and telophase II, the staining of iNOS was concentrated in the region between the separating chromosomes/chromatids. Furthermore, the staining of iNOS also accumulated in the male and female pronuclei in fertilized eggs. Germinal vesicle breakdown and the first polar body emission of the oocytes were significantly blocked by the iNOS-specific inhibitor AG in a dose-dependent manner. The germinal vesicle breakdown in oocytes injected with iNOS antibody was also inhibited. We found that the phosphorylation of mitogen-activated protein kinase in oocytes after germinal vesicle breakdown was inhibited by AG treatment. The control oocytes extruded a normal first polar body, while the AG-treated oocytes exhibited an elongated protrusion or no elongated protrusion. The results of confocal microscopy showed that the AG-treated oocytes were arrested at anaphase I–telophase I. Our results suggest that the iNOS-derived NO pathway plays important roles in mouse oocyte meiotic maturation, especially in germinal vesicle breakdown and the anaphase–telophase transition.

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Ji-Wen Yang, Zi-Li Lei, Yi-Liang Miao, Jun-Cheng Huang, Li-Hong Shi, Ying-Chun OuYang, Qing-Yuan Sun and Da-Yuan Chen

This study was carried out to investigate the contributions of chromosomes to spindle assembly in mouse oocytes. We generated two groups of cytoplasts (holo- and hemi-cytoplasts) by enucleation of germinal vesicle (GV), metaphase I (MI), and metaphase II (MII) oocytes using micromanipulation technology. After in vitro culture for 18 h, spindles with different shapes (bi-, mono-, or multipolar) formed in most of these cytoplasts except in hemi-GV cytoplasts. Two or more spindles were observed in most of holo-GV, holo-MI, and holo-MII cytoplasts (76.1, 77.0, and 83.7% respectively). However, the proportions of hemi-MI and hemi-MII cytoplasts with multiple sets of spindles decreased to 17.6 and 20.7% respectively. A single bipolar spindle was observed in each sham-operated oocyte generated by removing different volumes of cytoplasm from the oocytes and keeping nuclei intact. Localization of γ-tubulin showed that microtubule organizing centers (MTOCs) were dispersed at each pole of the multiple sets of spindles formed in holo-cytoplasts. However, most of the MTOCs aggregated at the two poles of the bipolar spindle in sham-operated oocytes. Our results demonstrate that chromosomes are not essential for initiating spindle assembly but for directing distinct MTOCs to aggregate to form a bipolar spindle. Some factors of undetermined nature may pre-exist in an inactive form in GV-stage ooplasm, serving as initiators of spindle assembly upon their activation. Moreover, GV materials released into the cytoplasm may facilitate spindle assembly in normal meiotic maturation.