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Lifan Zhang, Xing Du, Shengjuan Wei, Dongfeng Li, and Qifa Li

As a key mediator of the transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-β) signaling pathway, which plays a pivotal role in regulating mammalian reproductive performance, Sma- and Mad-related protein 4 (SMAD4) is closely associated with the development of ovarian follicular. However, current knowledge of the genome-wide view on the role of SMAD4 gene in mammalian follicular granulosa cells (GCs) is still largely unknown. In the present study, RNA-Seq was performed to investigate the effects of SMAD4 knockdown by RNA interference (SMAD4-siRNA) in porcine follicular GCs. A total of 1025 differentially expressed genes (DEGs), including 530 upregulated genes and 495 downregulated genes, were identified in SMAD4-siRNA treated GCs compared with that treated with NC-siRNA. Furthermore, functional enrichment analysis indicated that upregulated DEGs in SMAD4-siRNA treated cells were mainly enriched in cell-cycle related processes, interferon signaling pathway, and immune system process, while downregulated DEGs in SMAD4-siRNA treated cells were mainly involved in extracellular matrix organization/disassembly, pathogenesis, and cell adhesion. In particular, cell cycle and TGF-β signaling pathway were discovered as the canonical pathways changed under SMAD4-silencing. Taken together, our data reveals SMAD4 knockdown alters the expression of numerous genes involved in key biological processes of the development of follicular GCs and provides a novel global clue of the role of SMAD4 gene in porcine follicular GCs, thus improving our understanding of regulatory mechanisms of SMAD4 gene in follicular development.

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Xiangyun Li, Wei Wei, Jun Yong, Qing Jia, Yuansong Yu, and Keqian Di

The aim of this paper was to determine whether the genetic background of tetraploid embryos contributed to the survival of mice derived from embryonic stem (ES) cells by tetraploid embryo complementation. Twenty-five newborns were produced by aggregation of hybrid ES cells and tetraploid embryos with different genetic backgrounds. These newborns were entirely derived from ES cells judged by microsatellite DNA (A specific sequence of DNA bases or nucleotides that contains mono, di, tri or tetra repeats) and coat colour phenotype and germline transmission. Fifteen survived to adulthood while seven died of respiratory failure. All newborns were derived from outbred or hybrid tetraploid aggregates and no newborns were from the inbreds. Our results demonstrate that the genetic heterozygosity, fitness of tetraploid embryos and fitness of ES cells are crucial parameters influencing survival of mice derived from ES cells by tetraploid embryo aggregation. In addition, this method represents a simple and efficient procedure for immediate generation of targeted mouse mutants from genetically modified ES cell clones, in contrast to the standard protocol, which involves the production of chimeras and several breeding steps.

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Xiu Shi, Wei Xu, Hui-Hua Dai, Ying Sun, and Xiu-Li Wang

To compare the expression patterns of steroid receptor coactivators (SRCs) and steroid-induced stromal cell-derived factor 1 (CXCL12 (SDF1)) in normal and ectopic endometrium and to explore the roles of NCOA1 (SRC1) and NCOA2 (SRC2) in the steroid-induced CXCL12 expression in normal and ectopic endometrial stromal cells (ESCs). The NCOA1, NCOA2, NCOA3 (SRC3), and CXCL12 (SDF1)α mRNA levels in normal and ectopic endometrium were analyzed by quantitative real-time PCR. Steroid-induced CXCL12 expression was detected by the ELISA method and the chemotactic activity of conditioned supernatant to monocyte was assessed by the Boyden chamber method before and after the silencing of NCOA1 or NCOA2 with siRNA in normal and ectopic ESCs. The expression of NCOA1 and CXCL12 in ectopic endometrium was significantly greater than that in normal endometrium in the secretory phase. Progesterone (P4) was able to significantly inhibit estradiol (E2)-stimulated CXCL12 expression in normal and ectopic ESCs. The inhibitory rate of P4 in ectopic ESCs at 72 and 96 h was significantly lower than that in normal ESCs. Silencing of NCOA1 but not NCOA2 significantly reduced the E2-induced CXCL12 expression in normal and ectopic ESCs. The ability of P4 to inhibit E2-induced CXCL12 expression and monocyte chemotaxis in normal and ectopic ESCs was significantly attenuated when NCOA2 was silenced. NCOA1 plays a necessary role in E2-induced CXCL12 expression and NCOA2 is required for P4 to inhibit the E2-induced CXCL12 production in normal and ectopic endometrium.

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Wei Guo, Fei Qu, Li Xia, Qiangsu Guo, Xiaoqian Ying, and Zhide Ding

The mammalian epididymis is able to create sequential changes in the composition of luminal fluid throughout its length, wherein spermatozoa undergo morphological, biochemical, and physiological modifications. Subsequently, spermatozoa acquire the ability for fertilization upon reaching the epididymal cauda. In this study, protein variations in Sprague–Dawley rat spermatozoa along the caput and caudal regions of epididymis were investigated by high-resolution two-dimensional gel electrophoresis (2DE) in combination with mass spectrometry. From total protein spots on the 2DE maps, 43 spots were shown to be significantly modified as sperm traverse the epididymis, and seven unambiguous proteins were identified from them. Finally, using indirect immunofluorescence, we demonstrated that localization of one of these seven proteins, the endoplasmic reticulum protein (ERp29) precursor, which was first reported in mammalian spermatozoa, was apparently up-regulated as the sperm underwent epididymal maturation and expressed mainly on caudal sperm. Western blot analysis also revealed that ERp29 precursor, from both whole spermatozoa and membrane proteins, increased significantly as the sperm underwent epididymal maturation. Furthermore, the results from immunofluorescence-stained epididymal frozen sections demonstrated that ERp29 was localized in cytoplasm of epididymal epithelia, and the fluorescence intensity was significantly higher in the caudal epididymis than in the caput. These clues indicated that the ERp29 precursor, perhaps related to secretory protein synthesis and absorbed by spermatozoa, may play a vital role in sperm maturation during the epididymal transit, particularly, in the sperm/organelle membrane.

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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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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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Lina Wang, Zhiliang Xu, Muhammad Babar Khawar, Chao Liu, and Wei Li

Meiosis is a specialized process that produces haploid gametes from diploid cells by a single round of DNA replication followed by two successive cell divisions. It contains many special events, such as programmed DNA double-strand break (DSB) formation, homologous recombination, crossover formation and resolution. These events are associated with dynamically regulated chromosomal structures, the dynamic transcriptional regulation and chromatin remodeling are mainly modulated by histone modifications, termed ‘histone codes’. The purpose of this review is to summarize the histone codes that are required for meiosis during spermatogenesis and oogenesis, involving meiosis resumption, meiotic asymmetric division and other cellular processes. We not only systematically review the functional roles of histone codes in meiosis but also discuss future trends and perspectives in this field.

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Shun Zhang, Yi Zeng, Juan Qu, Yaning Luo, Xiaohong Wang, and Wei Li

Administration of exogenous epidermal growth factor (EGF) improves testicular injury after acute ischemia–reperfusion (IR) stress, but the molecular basis is poorly understood. The role of endogenous EGF in testicular recovery and the underlying intracellular signaling pathways involved were herein investigated. In mice, testicular IR injury significantly enhanced the expression level of endogenous Egf at the very beginning of reperfusion. Expression of EGF receptor (Egfr (ErbB1)) was accordingly upregulated 3 h after reperfusion. Deprivation of majority of circulated EGF by sialoadenectomy aggravated testicular detriment (especially in pachytene spermatocytes), enhanced germ cell apoptosis, and thereafter resulted in impaired meiotic differentiation after IR insult. Mechanistically, endogenous EGF signaling appeared to be indispensable for the proper maintenance of Sertoli germ cells anchoring junction dynamics during the early testicular recovery. We also provided the in vitro evidences in a well-established rat Sertoli germ cell co-cultures model that the pro-survival effect of endogenous EGF on germ cells in response to testicular IR insult is mediated, at least in part, via the phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase/pAkt pathway. Collectively, our results suggest that the augment of endogenous EGF during the early testicular recovery may act on top of an endocrinous cascade orchestrating the intimate interactions between Sertoli cells and germ cells and may operate as indispensable defensive mechanism in response to testicular IR stress. Future studies in this field would shed light on this complicated pathogenesis.

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Jing Xue, Hui Zhang, Wei Liu, Ming Liu, Min Shi, Zeqing Wen, and Changzhong Li

Adenomyosis is a finding that is associated with dysmenorrhea and heavy menstrual bleeding, associated with PI3K/AKT signaling overactivity. To investigate the effect of metformin on the growth of eutopic endometrial stromal cells (ESCs) from patients with adenomyosis and to explore the involvement of AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) and PI3K/AKT pathways. Primary cultures of human ESCs were derived from normal endometrium (normal endometrial stromal cells (N-ESCs)) and adenomyotic eutopic endometrium (adenomyotic endometrial stroma cells (A-ESCs)). Expression of AMPK was determined using immunocytochemistry and western blot analysis. 3-(4, 5-Dimethylthiazol-2-yl)-2, 5-diphenyltetrazolium bromide assays were used to determine the effects of metformin and compound C on ESCs and also to detect growth and proliferation of ESCs. AMPK and PI3K/AKT signaling was determined by western blotting. A-ECSs exhibited greater AMPK expression than N-ESCs. Metformin inhibited proliferation of ESCs in a concentration-dependent manner. The IC50 was 2.45 mmol/l for A-ESCs and 7.87 mmol/l for N-ESCs. Metformin increased AMPK activation levels (p-AMPK/AMPK) by 2.0±0.3-fold in A-ESCs, 2.3-fold in A-ESCs from the secretory phase, and 1.6-fold in the proliferation phase. The average reduction ratio of 17β-estradiol on A-ESCs was 2.1±0.8-fold in proliferative phase and 2.5±0.5-fold in secretory phase relative to the equivalent groups not treated with 17β-estradiol. The inhibitory effects of metformin on AKT activation (p-AKT/AKT) were more pronounced in A-ESCs from the secretory phase (3.2-fold inhibition vs control) than in those from the proliferation phase (2.3-fold inhibition vs control). Compound C, a selective AMPK inhibitor, abolished the effects of metformin on cell growth and PI3K/AKT signaling. Metformin inhibits cell growth via AMPK activation and subsequent inhibition of PI3K/AKT signaling in A-ESCs, particularly during the secretory phase, suggesting a greater effect of metformin on A-ESCs from secretory phase.

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Wei Shen, Lan Li, Zhaodai Bai, Qingjie Pan, Mingxiao Ding, and Hongkui Deng

Little is known about the mechanisms underlying primordial follicular formation and the acquisition of competence to resume meiosis by growing oocytes. It is therefore important to establish an in vitro experimental model that allows one to study such mechanisms. Mouse follicular development has been studied in vitro over the past several years; however, no evidence has been presented showing that mature oocytes can be obtained from mouse fetal germ cells prior to the formation of primordial follicles. In this study, a method has been established to obtain mature oocytes from the mouse fetal germ cells at 16.5 days postcoitum (dpc). From the initiation of primordial follicular formation to the growth of early secondary follicles, ovarian tissues from 16.5 dpc fetal mice were cultured in vitro for 14 days. Subsequently, 678 intact secondary follicles were isolated from 182 mouse fetal ovaries and cultured for 12 days. A total of 141 oocytes inside antral follicles were matured in vitro, and 102 oocytes underwent germinal vesicle breakdown. We found that 97 oocytes were fertilized and 15 embryos were able to form morula–blastocysts. We also analyzed various genomic imprinting markers and showed that the erasure of genomic imprinting markers in the parental generation was also imposed on the oocytes that developed from fetal germ cells. Our results demonstrate that mouse fetal germ cells are able to form primordial follicles with ovarian cells, and that oocytes within the growing follicles are able to mature normally in vitro.