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S C Loux, K E Scoggin, M H T Troedsson, E L Squires and B A Ball

The cervical mucus plug (CMP) is believed to play an integral role in the maintenance of pregnancy in the mare, primarily by inhibiting microbial entry. Unfortunately, very little is known about its composition or origin. To determine the proteomic composition of the CMP, we collected CMPs from mares (n = 4) at 9 months of gestation, and proteins were subsequently analyzed by nano-LC–MS/MS. Results were searched against EquCab2.0, and proteomic pathways were predicted by Ingenuity Pathway Analysis. Histologic sections of the CMP were stained with H&E and PAS. To identify the origin of highly abundant proteins in the CMP, we performed qPCR on endometrial and cervical mucosal mRNA from mares in estrus, diestrus as well as mares at 4 and 10 m gestation on transcripts for lactotransferrin, uterine serpin 14, uteroglobin, uteroferrin, deleted in malignant brain tumors 1 and mucins 4, 5b and 6. Overall, we demonstrated that the CMP is composed of a complex milieu of proteins during late gestation, many of which play an important role in immune function. Proteins traditionally considered to be endometrial proteins were found to be produced by the cervical mucosa suggesting that the primary source of the CMP is the cervical mucosa itself. In summary, composition of the equine CMP is specifically regulated not only during pregnancy but also throughout the estrous cycle. The structural and compositional changes serve to provide both a structural barrier as well as a physiological barrier during pregnancy to prevent infection of the fetus and fetal membranes.

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Erin L Legacki, C J Corbin, B A Ball, M Wynn, S Loux, S D Stanley and A J Conley

Mammalian pregnancies need progestogenic support and birth requires progestin withdrawal. The absence of progesterone in pregnant mares, and the progestogenic bioactivity of 5α-dihydroprogesterone (DHP), led us to reexamine progestin withdrawal at foaling. Systemic pregnane concentrations (DHP, allopregnanolone, pregnenolone, 5α-pregnane-3β, 20α-diol (3β,20αDHP), 20α-hydroxy-5α-dihydroprogesterone (20αDHP)) and progesterone) were monitored in mares for 10days before foaling (n=7) by liquid chromatography–mass spectrometry. The biopotency of dominant metabolites was assessed using luciferase reporter assays. Stable transfected Chinese hamster ovarian cells expressing the equine progesterone receptor (ePGR) were transfected with an MMTV-luciferase expression plasmid responsive to steroid agonists. Cells were incubated with increasing concentrations (0–100nM) of progesterone, 20αDHP and 3α,20βDHP. The concentrations of circulating pregnanes in periparturient mares were (highest to lowest) 3α,20βDHP and 20αDHP (800–400ng/mL respectively), DHP and allopregnanolone (90 and 30ng/mL respectively), and pregnenolone and progesterone (4–2ng/mL). Concentrations of all measured pregnanes declined on average by 50% from prepartum peaks to the day before foaling. Maximum activation of the ePGR by progesterone occurred at 30nM; 20αDHP and 3α,20βDHP were significantly less biopotent. At prepartum concentrations, both 20αDHP and 3α,20βDHP exhibited significant ePGR activation. Progestogenic support of pregnancy declines from 3 to 5days before foaling. Prepartum peak concentrations indicate that DHP is the major progestin, but other pregnanes like 20αDHP are present in sufficient concentrations to play a physiological role in the absence of DHP. The authors conclude that progestin withdrawal associated with parturition in mares involves cessation of pregnane synthesis by the placenta.

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S C Loux, A J Conley, K E Scoggin, H El-Sheikh Ali, P Dini and B A Ball

Steroid production varies widely among species, with these differences becoming more pronounced during pregnancy. As a result, each species has its own distinct pattern of steroids, steroidogenic enzymes, receptors, and transporters to support its individual physiological requirements. Although the circulating steroid profile is well characterized during equine pregnancy, there is much yet to be explored regarding the factors that support steroidogenesis and steroid signaling. To obtain a holistic view of steroid-related transcripts, we sequenced chorioallantois (45 days, 4 months, 6 months, 10 months, 11 months, and post-partum) and endometrium (4 months, 6 months, 10 months, 11 months, and diestrus) throughout gestation, then looked in-depth at transcripts related to steroid synthesis, conjugation, transportation, and signaling. Key findings include: 1) differential expression of HSD17B isoforms among tissues (HSD17B1 high in the chorioallantois, while HSD17B2 is the dominant form in the endometrium) 2) a novel isoform with homology to SULT1A1 is the predominant sulfotransferase transcript in the chorioallantois; and 3) nuclear estrogen (ESR1, ESR2) and progesterone (PGR) expression is minimal to nonexistant in the chorioallantois and pregnant endometrium. Additionally, several hypotheses have been formed, including the possibility that the 45-day chorioallantois is able to synthesize steroids de novo from acetate and that horses utilize glucuronidation to clear estrogens from the endometrium during estrous, but not during pregnancy. In summary, these findings represent an in-depth look at equine steroid-related transcripts through gestation, providing novel hypotheses and future directions for equine endocrine research.

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B Macías-García, L González-Fernández, S C Loux, A M Rocha, T Guimarães, F J Peña, D D Varner and K Hinrichs

Repeatable methods for IVF have not been established in the horse, reflecting the failure of standard capacitating media to induce changes required for fertilization capacity in equine sperm. One important step in capacitation is membrane cholesterol efflux, which in other species is triggered by cholesterol oxidation and is typically enhanced using albumin as a sterol acceptor. We incubated equine sperm in the presence of calcium, BSA, and bicarbonate, alone or in combination. Bicarbonate induced an increase in reactive oxygen species (ROS) that was abolished by the addition of calcium or BSA. Bicarbonate induced protein tyrosine phosphorylation (PY), even in the presence of calcium or BSA. Incubation at high pH enhanced PY but did not increase ROS production. Notably, no combination of these factors was associated with significant cholesterol efflux, as assessed by fluorescent quantitative cholesterol assay and confirmed by filipin staining. By contrast, sperm treated with methyl-β-cyclodextrin showed a significant reduction in cholesterol levels, but no significant increase in PY or ROS. Presence of BSA increased sperm binding to bovine zonae pellucidae in all three stallions. These results show that presence of serum albumin is not associated with a reduction in membrane cholesterol levels in equine sperm, highlighting the failure of equine sperm to exhibit core capacitation-related changes in a standard capacitating medium. These data indicate an atypical relationship among cholesterol efflux, ROS production, and PY in equine sperm. Our findings may help to elucidate factors affecting failure of equine IVF under standard conditions.

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H El-Sheikh Ali, E L Legacki, K E Scoggin, S C Loux, P Dini, A Esteller-Vico, A J Conley, S D Stanley and B A Ball

Equine placentitis is associated with alterations in maternal peripheral steroid concentrations, which could negatively affect pregnancy outcome. This study aimed to elucidate the molecular mechanisms related to steroidogenesis and steroid-receptor signaling in the equine placenta during acute placentitis. Chorioallantois (CA) and endometrial (EN) samples were collected from mares with experimentally induced placentitis (n = 4) and un-inoculated gestationally age-matched mares (control group; n = 4). The mRNA expression of genes coding for steroidogenic enzymes (3βHSD, CYP11A1, CYP17A1, CYP19A1, SRD5A1, and AKR1C23) was evaluated using qRT-PCR. The concentration of these enzyme-dependent steroids (P5, P4, 5αDHP, 3αDHP, 20αDHP, 3β-20αDHP, 17OH-P, DHEA, A4, and estrone) was assessed using liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry in both maternal circulation and placental tissue. Both SRD5A1 and AKR1C23, which encode for the key progesterone metabolizing enzymes, were downregulated (P < 0.05) in CA from the placentitis group compared to controls, and this downregulation was associated with a decline in tissue concentrations of 5αDHP (P < 0.05), 3αDHP (P < 0.05), and 3β-20αDHP (P = 0.052). In the EN, AKR1C23 was also downregulated in the placentitis group compared to controls, and this downregulation was associated with a decline in EN concentrations of 3αDHP (P < 0.01) and 20αDHP (P < 0.05). Moreover, CA expression of CYP19A1 tended to be lower in the placentitis group, and this reduction was associated with lower (P = 0.057) concentrations of estrone in CA. Moreover, ESR1 (steroid receptors) gene expression was downregulated (P = 0.057) in CA from placentitis mares. In conclusion, acute equine placentitis is associated with a local withdrawal of progestins in the placenta and tended to be accompanied with estrogen withdrawals in CA.