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Katrin Mitko, Susanne E Ulbrich, Hendrik Wenigerkind, Fred Sinowatz, Helmut Blum, Eckhard Wolf, and Stefan Bauersachs

During the oestrous cycle, the bovine endometrium exhibits characteristic morphological and functional changes, which are mainly induced by progesterone (P4), oestrogens and oxytocin. We studied the response of the endometrium to this changing hormonal environment at the transcriptome level using a custom-made cDNA microarray. Endometrium samples were recovered from Simmental heifers on days 0 (oestrus), 3.5 (metoestrus), 12 (dioestrus) and 18. The latter group was divided into animals with high (late dioestrus) and low P4 levels (preoestrus). Significance analysis of microarrays revealed 269 genes exhibiting significant changes in their transcript levels during the oestrous cycle in distinct temporal patterns. Two major types of expression profiles were observed, which showed the highest mRNA levels during the oestrus phase or the highest levels during the luteal phase respectively. A minor group of genes exhibited the highest mRNA levels on day 3.5. Gene ontology (GO) analyses revealed GO categories related to extracellular matrix remodelling, transport, and cell growth and morphogenesis enriched at oestrus, whereas immune response and particular metabolic pathways were overrepresented at dioestrus. Generation of gene interaction networks uncovered the genes possibly involved in endometrial remodelling (e.g. collagen genes, TNC, SPARC, MMP2, MEP1B, TIMP1, TIMP2, HTRA1), regulation of angiogenesis (e.g. ANGPTL2, TEK, NPY, AGT, EPAS1, KLF5 ), regulation of invasive growth (e.g. PCSK5, tight junction proteins, GRP, LGALS1, ANXA2, NOV, PLAT, MET, TDGF1, CST6, ITGB4), cell adhesion (e.g. MUC16, LGALS3BP) and embryo feeding (e.g. SLC1A1, SLC11A2, SLC16A1, SEPP1, ENPP1). Localisation of mRNA expression in the endometrium was analysed for CLDN4, CLDN10, TJP1, PCSK5, MAGED1, and LGALS1.

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Stefan Bauersachs, Susanne E Ulbrich, Karin Gross, Susanne E M Schmidt, Heinrich H D Meyer, Hendrik Wenigerkind, Margarete Vermehren, Fred Sinowatz, Helmut Blum, and Eckhard Wolf

The endometrium plays a central role among the reproductive tissues in the context of early embryo–maternal communication and pregnancy. This study investigated transcriptome profiles of endometrium samples from day 18 pregnant vs non-pregnant heifers to get insight into the molecular mechanisms involved in conditioning the endometrium for embryo attachment and implantation. Using a combination of subtracted cDNA libraries and cDNA array hybridisation, 109 mRNAs with at least twofold higher abundance in endometrium of pregnant animals and 70 mRNAs with higher levels in the control group were identified. Among the mRNAs with higher abundance in pregnant animals, at least 41 are already described as induced by interferons. In addition, transcript levels of many new candidate genes involved in the regulation of transcription, cell adhesion, modulation of the maternal immune system and endometrial remodelling were found to be increased. The different expression level was confirmed with real-time PCR for nine genes. Localisation of mRNA expression in the endometrium was shown by in situ hybridisation for AGRN, LGALS3BP, LGALS9, USP18, PARP12 and BST2. A comparison with similar studies in humans, mice, and revealed species-specific and common molecular markers of uterine receptivity.

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Anna E Groebner, Isabel Rubio-Aliaga, Katy Schulke, Horst D Reichenbach, Hannelore Daniel, Eckhard Wolf, Heinrich H D Meyer, and Susanne E Ulbrich

Amino acids (AAs) are crucial for the developing conceptus prior to implantation. To provide insights into the requirements of the bovine embryo, we determined the AA composition of the uterine fluid. At days 12, 15, and 18 post-estrus, the uteri of synchronized pregnant and non-pregnant Simmental heifers were flushed for the analysis of 41 AAs and their derivatives by liquid chromatography–tandem mass spectrometry. The ipsilateral endometrium was sampled for quantitative PCR. In addition to a pregnancy-dependent increase of the essential AAs (P<0.01), we detected elevated concentrations for most non-essential proteinogenic AAs. Histidine (His) and the expression of the His/peptide transporter solute carrier 15A3 (SLC15A3) were significantly increased at day 18 of pregnancy in vivo. In addition, SLC15A3 was predominantly stimulated by trophoblast-derived interferon-τ in stroma cells of an in vitro co-culture model of endometrial cells. Our results show an increased concentration of AAs most likely to optimally provide the elongating pre-attachment conceptus with nutrients.

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Corina I Schanzenbach, Sandra M Bernal-Ulloa, Vera A van der Weijden, Michael W Pfaffl, Mathias Büttner, Annegret Wünsch, and Susanne E Ulbrich

Preimplantation bovine blastocyst supernatants exhibit sex-dependent antiviral activity, due to the ruminant pregnancy recognition signal interferon tau (IFNT). Differing potencies of IFNT variants have been supposed as cause, although evidence remains scarce. Here, we aimed at quantifying the sex-dependent IFNT production on transcriptional, translational and biological activity level in bovine blastocysts, to elucidate the origin of differences in antiviral activity between male and female blastocysts. Day 8 bovine blastocysts were co-cultured with endometrial stroma cells for 48 h. The embryonic IFNT mRNA expression was determined by quantitative reverse transcription followed by polymerase chain reaction (RT-qPCR). Additionally, the IFNT protein concentration was determined using a sensitive in-house developed IFNT-specific enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). The biological activity was assessed by quantifying the response of interferon-stimulated gene (ISG) expression in endometrial stroma cells. While the IFNT-specific ELISA displayed a limit of detection of 7.3 pg/mL, the stroma cell culture system showed to react to as little as 0.1 pg/mL IFNT in RT-qPCR analysis. The female blastocysts had a significant, 5.6-fold, 3.6-fold and 5.2-fold higher IFNT production than male blastocysts as determined by transcript abundance, protein concentration and, protein activity, respectively. Additionally, all parameters correlated positively, and therefore, we conclude that female blastocysts most likely have an increased IFNT gene and protein expression rather than expressing more potent IFNT variants.

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Constantine A Simintiras, Thomas Fröhlich, Thozhukat Sathyapalan, Georg J Arnold, Susanne E Ulbrich, Henry J Leese, and Roger G Sturmey

Oviduct fluid is the microenvironment that supports early reproductive processes including fertilisation, embryo cleavage and genome activation. However, the composition and regulation of this critical environment remain rather poorly defined. This study uses an in vitro preparation of the bovine oviduct epithelium to investigate the formation and composition of in vitro-derived oviduct fluid (ivDOF) within a controlled environment. We confirm the presence of oviduct-specific glycoprotein 1 in ivDOF and show that the amino acid and carbohydrate content resembles that of previously reported in vivo data. In parallel, using a different culture system, a panel of oviduct epithelial solute carrier genes and the corresponding flux of amino acids within ivDOF in response to steroid hormones were investigated. We next incorporated fibroblasts directly beneath the epithelium. This dual culture arrangement represents more faithfully the in vivo environment and impacts on ivDOF composition. Lastly, physiological and pathophysiological endocrine states were modelled and their impact on the in vitro oviduct preparation was evaluated. These experiments help clarify the dynamic function of the oviduct in vitro and suggest a number of future research avenues, such as investigating epithelial–fibroblast interactions, probing the molecular aetiologies of subfertility and optimising embryo culture media.

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Regine Rottmayer, Susanne E Ulbrich, Sabine Kölle, Katja Prelle, Christine Neumueller, Fred Sinowatz, Heinrich H D Meyer, Eckhard Wolf, and Stefan Hiendleder

We established a short-term (24 h) culture system for bovine oviduct epithelial cells (BOECs), obtained on day 3.5 of the estrous cycle and evaluated the cells with respect to morphological criteria, marker gene expression, and hormone responsiveness. BOEC sheets were isolated mechanically from the ampulla with similar yields from oviducts ipsi- and contralateral to the ovulation site (57.9 ± 4.6 and 56.4 ± 8.0 × 106 cells). BOECs showed > 95% purity and cells cultured for 24 h maintained morphological characteristics present in vivo, as determined by light microscopy, scanning electron microscopy, and transmission electron microscopy. Both secretory cells with numerous secretory granules and ciliated cells with long, well-developed, and vigorously beating kinocilia were visible. Quantitative real-time PCR failed to detect significant differences in transcript levels between ipsi-and contralateral BOECs for the majority of marker genes (estrogen receptors α and β (ESR1 and ESR2), 3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl-coenzyme A reductase (HMGCR), oviductal glycoprotein 1 (OVGP1), progesterone receptor (PGR), and tumor rejection antigen 1 (TRA1)) throughout the 24 h culture period. However, the combined data of all time points for glutathione peroxidase 4 (GPX4), a gene previously shown to be expressed at higher levels in the ipsilateral oviduct in vivo, also indicated significantly different mRNA levels in vitro. The expression of marker genes remained stable after 6 h cell culture, indicating only a short adaptation period. Western blot analysis confirmed ESR1 and PGR protein expression throughout the culture period. In agreement with cyclic differences in vivo, estradiol-17β stimulation increased PGR transcript abundance in BOECs. Our novel culture system provides functional BOECs in sufficient quantities for holistic transcriptome and proteome studies, e.g. for deciphering early embryo–maternal communication.

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Miguel A Velazquez, Klaus-Gerd Hadeler, Doris Herrmann, Wilfried A Kues, Susanne E Ulbrich, Heinrich H D Meyer, Benoît Rémy, Jean-François Beckers, Helga Sauerwein, and Heiner Niemann