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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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Jing Tong, Shile Sheng, Yun Sun, Huihui Li, Wei-Ping Li, Cong Zhang, and Zi-Jiang Chen

Good-quality oocytes are critical for the success of in vitro fertilization (IVF), but, to date, there is no marker of ovarian reserve available that can accurately predict oocyte quality. Melatonin exerts its antioxidant actions as a strong radical scavenger that might affect oocyte quality directly as it is the most potent antioxidant in follicular fluid. To investigate the precise role of endogenous melatonin in IVF outcomes, we recruited 61 women undergoing treatment cycles of IVF or intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) procedures and classified them into three groups according to their response to ovarian stimulation. Follicular fluid was collected to assess melatonin levels using a direct RIA method. We found good correlations between melatonin levels in follicular fluid with age, anti-Müllerian hormone (AMH) and baseline follicle-stimulating hormone (bFSH), all of which have been used to predict ovarian reserve. Furthermore, as melatonin levels correlated to IVF outcomes, higher numbers of oocytes were collected from patients with higher melatonin levels and consequently the number of oocytes fertilized, zygotes cleaved, top quality embryos on D3, blastocysts obtained and embryos suitable for transplantation was higher. The blastocyst rate increased in concert with the melatonin levels across the gradient between the poor response group and the high response group. These results demonstrated that the melatonin levels in follicular fluid is associated with both the quantity and quality of oocytes and can predict IVF outcomes as well making them highly relevant biochemical markers of ovarian reserve.

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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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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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Wei Wang, Xia Chen, Xinxiu Li, Li Wang, Haiyan Zhang, Yu He, Jingjing Wang, Yongyan Zhao, Baole Zhang, and Yinxue Xu

FSH plays a critical role in granulosa cell (GC) proliferation and steroidogenesis through modulation by factors including bone morphogenetic proteins family, which belongs to transforming growth factor β (TGFB) superfamily. TGFBs are the key factors in maintaining cell growth and differentiation in ovaries. However, the interaction of FSH and TGFB on the GCs' proliferation and steroidogenesis remains to be elucidated. In this study, we have investigated the role of SMAD4, a core molecule mediating the intracellular TGFB/SMAD signal transduction pathway, in FSH-mediated proliferation and steroidogenesis of porcine GCs. In this study, SMAD4 was knocked down using interference RNA in porcine GCs. Our results showed that SMAD4-siRNA causes specific inhibition of SMAD4 mRNA and protein expression after transfection. Knockdown of SMAD4 significantly inhibited FSH-induced porcine GC proliferation and estradiol production and changed the expression of cyclin D2, CDK2, CDK4, CYP19a1, and CYP11a1. Thus, these observations establish an important role of SMAD4 in the regulation of the response of porcine GCs to FSH.

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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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Bingteng Xie, Heng Zhang, Renyue Wei, Qiannan Li, Xiaogang Weng, Qingran Kong, and Zhonghua Liu

Aberrant epigenetic reprogramming is the main obstacle to the development of somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) embryos and the generation of induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, which results in the low reprogramming efficiencies of SCNT and iPS. Histone H3 lysine 27 trimethylation (H3K27me3), as a repressive epigenetic mark, plays important roles in mammalian development and iPS induction. However, the reprogramming of H3K27me3 in pig remains elusive. In this study, we showed that H3K27me3 levels in porcine early cloned embryos were higher than that in IVF embryos. Then GSK126 and GSK-J4, two small molecule inhibitors of H3K27me3 methylase (EZH2) and demethylases (UTX/JMJD3), were used to regulate the H3K27me3 level. The results showed that H3K27me3 level was reduced in cloned embryos after treatment of PEF with 0.75 μM GSK126 for 48 h, incubation of one-cell reconstructed oocytes with 0.1 μM GSK126 and injection of antibody for EZH2 into oocyte. Meanwhile, the development of the cloned embryos was significantly improved after these treatments. On the contrary, GSK-J4 treatment increased the H3K27me3 level in cloned embryos and decreased the cloned embryonic development. Furthermore, iPS efficiency was both increased after reducing the H3K27me3 level in donor cells and in early reprogramming phase. In summary, our results suggest that H3K27me3 acts as an epigenetic barrier in SCNT and iPS reprogramming, and reduction of H3K27me3 level in donor cells and in early reprogramming phase can enhance both porcine SCNT and iPS efficiency.

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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.