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Laura C Schulz and R Michael Roberts

The hormone leptin, which is primarily produced by adipose tissue, is a critical permissive factor for multiple reproductive events in the mouse, including implantation. In the CD1 strain, maternally derived leptin from the oocyte becomes differentially distributed among the blastomeres of pre-implantation embryos to create a polarized pattern, a feature consistent with a model of development in which blastomeres are biased toward a particular fate as early as the two-cell stage. In this study, we have confirmed that embryonic leptin is of maternal origin and re-examined leptin distribution in two distinct strains in which embryos were derived after either normal ovulation or superovulation. A polarized pattern of leptin distribution was found in the majority of both CD1 and CF1 embryos (79.1 and 76.9% respectively) collected following superovulation but was reduced, particularly in CF1 embryos (29.8%; P<0.0001), after natural ovulation. The difference in leptin asymmetries in the CF1 strain arose between ovulation and the first cleavage division and was not affected by removal of the zona pellucida. The presence or absence of leptin polarization was not linked to differences in the ability of embryos to normally develop to blastocyst. In the early blastocyst, leptin was confined subcortically to trophectoderm, but on blastocoel expansion, it was lost from the cells. Throughout development, leptin co-localized with LRP2, a multi-ligand transport protein, and its patterning resembled that noted for the maternal-effect proteins OOEP, NLRP5, and PADI6, suggesting that it is a component of the subcortical maternal complex with as yet unknown significance in pre-implantation development.

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R Michael Roberts, Jonathan A Green, and Laura C Schulz

The very apt definition of a placenta is coined by Mossman, namely apposition or fusion of the fetal membranes to the uterine mucosa for physiological exchange. As such, it is a specialized organ whose purpose is to provide continuing support to the developing young. By this definition, placentas have evolved within every vertebrate class other than birds. They have evolved on multiple occasions, often within quite narrow taxonomic groups. As the placenta and the maternal system associate more intimately, such that the conceptus relies extensively on maternal support, the relationship leads to increased conflict that drives adaptive changes on both sides. The story of vertebrate placentation, therefore, is one of convergent evolution at both the macromolecular and molecular levels. In this short review, we first describe the emergence of placental-like structures in nonmammalian vertebrates and then transition to mammals themselves. We close the review by discussing the mechanisms that might have favored diversity and hence evolution of the morphology and physiology of the placentas of eutherian mammals.

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Yizhen Chen, Eric Antoniou, Zhilin Liu, Leonard B Hearne, and R Michael Roberts

Interferon-τ (IFNT) is released by preimplantation conceptuses of ruminant species and prepares the mother for pregnancy. Although one important function is to protect the corpus luteum from the luteolytic activity of prostaglandin-F 2α, IFNT most likely regulates a range of other physiological processes in endometrium. Here, an immortalized cell line from ovine uterine luminal epithelial cells was treated with IFNT for either 8 or 24 h. RNA was subjected to cDNA microarray analysis, with RNA from untreated cells as the reference standard. Of 15 634 genes, 1274 (8%) were IFNT responsive at P<0.01 and 585 at P<0.001 to at least one treatment. Of the latter, 356 were up-regulated and 229 down-regulated. Increasing IFNT concentrations from 10 ng/ml to 10 μg/ml had minor effects, and most genes up- or down-regulated at 8 h were regulated similarly at 24 h. Although IFNT influences many genes implicated in antiviral activity and apoptosis, its action also likely regulates prostaglandin metabolism, growth factors and their receptors, apoptosis and the nuclear factor (NF)-κB cascade, extracellular matrix accretion, angiogenesis, blood coagulation, and inflammation. In particular, it increased mRNA concentrations of genes related to the vascular endothelial growth factor R2 pathway of angiogenesis and down-regulated ones associated with hypoxia. Two genes implicated in the antiluteolytic actions of IFNT (encoding cyclooxygenase-2 and the oxytocin receptor respectively) were down-regulated in response to all treatments. IFNT targets a complex range of physiological processes during the establishment of pregnancy.

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R Michael Roberts, Kyle M Loh, Mitsuyoshi Amita, Andreia S Bernardo, Katsuyuki Adachi, Andrei P Alexenko, Danny J Schust, Laura C Schulz, Bhanu Prakash V L Telugu, Toshihiko Ezashi, and Roger A Pedersen

It is imperative to unveil the full range of differentiated cell types into which human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs) can develop. The need is twofold: it will delimit the therapeutic utility of these stem cells and is necessary to place their position accurately in the developmental hierarchy of lineage potential. Accumulated evidence suggested that hPSC could develop in vitro into an extraembryonic lineage (trophoblast (TB)) that is typically inaccessible to pluripotent embryonic cells during embryogenesis. However, whether these differentiated cells are truly authentic TB has been challenged. In this debate, we present a case for and a case against TB differentiation from hPSCs. By analogy to other differentiation systems, our debate is broadly applicable, as it articulates higher and more challenging standards for judging whether a given cell type has been genuinely produced from hPSC differentiation.