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Jin-Young Lee, Whasun Lim, and Gwonhwa Song

Placental choriocarcinoma is a malignant trophoblastic tumor associated with placentation. During placentation, complicated molecular networks are mediated by endocrine and paracrine signals. Serotonin neurotransmitters have been identified in the transmembrane region of human placental choriocarcinoma (HPC) cells as tumor promoters; therefore, their antagonists have anti-cancer properties. Although methiothepin, a serotonin receptor antagonist and FDA-approved psychotropic agent, has shown multi-pharmacological functions in various disease models, its anti-tumorigenic activity and mechanisms underlying its action against HPC are unknown. Therefore, we identified the anti-cancer effects of methiothepin in JEG3 and JAR HPC cells. Methiothepin attenuated mitochondrial function and induced endoplasmic reticular stress, reducing oxidative phosphorylation and causing metabolic shifting in HPC cells. Furthermore, methiothepin showed synergistic pharmacological effects with paclitaxel in HPC cells. Our results highlight the robust tumor-suppressive function of methiothepin in HPC. Our findings provide new insights into the repositioning of methiothepin from a psychotropic agent to novel anti-cancer agents, especially against HPC.

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Changwon Yang, Gwonhwa Song, and Whasun Lim

In humans, pregnancy maintenance depends on normal placental formation following trophoblast invasion into the endometrium and vascular remodeling. In the early stages of pregnancy, immune tolerance, inflammatory response and adaptation to hypoxia need to be precisely regulated in the placental microenvironment. Various types of cells, such as trophoblasts, endothelial cells, immune cells, mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) and adipocytes, induce normal placental development via intercellular interactions through soluble factors. Extracellular vesicles (EVs) are used to diagnose various diseases because their constituents vary depending on the type of cell of origin and pathological characteristics. EV-derived microRNAs (miRNAs) and proteins in the placenta regulate inflammatory responses and the invasion of trophoblasts through intercellular delivery in the placental microenvironment. If the placenta does not adapt to the changed environment during early pregnancy, pregnancy disorders such as pre-eclampsia, preterm birth and gestational diabetes mellitus can occur. Thus, the important roles of EVs during pregnancy and development is fast emerging. This review describes the physiological role of EVs during placentation and their composition in the human placenta. It also suggests the possibility of finding EV markers that can diagnose pregnancy disorders. Furthermore, it describes the properties of EVs that affect pregnancy in livestock.

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Miji Kim, Junho Park, Garam An, Whasun Lim, and Gwonhwa Song

The use of herbicides is a major control method in agriculture. Pendimethalin (PDM) has been increasingly used as a herbicide for approximately 30 years. PDM has been reported to cause various reproductive problems, but its toxicity mechanism in the pre-implantation stage has not been investigated in detail. Herein, we studied the effects of PDM on porcine trophectoderm (pTr) and uterine luminal epithelial (pLE) cells and identified a PDM-mediated anti-proliferative effect in both cell types. PDM exposure generated intracellular ROS, induced excessive Ca2+ influx into mitochondria, and activated MAPK signaling pathway. Ca2+ burden resulted in the dysfunction of mitochondria and eventual disruption of Ca2+ homeostasis. Further, PDM-exposed pTr and pLE cells showed cell cycle arrest and programmed cell death. In addition, a decrease in migration ability and dysregulated expression of genes related to the functioning of pTr and pLE cells was evaluated. This study provides insight into time-dependent transitions within the cell environment after PDM exposure and elucidates a detailed mechanism of induced adverse effects. These results imply that PDM exposure can potentially cause toxic effects on implantation-related process in pigs. Moreover, to the best our knowledge, this is the first study to describe the mechanism by which PDM induces these effects, enhancing our understading of the toxicity of this herbicide.

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Jin-Young Lee, Hahyun Park, Whasun Lim, and Gwonhwa Song

α,β-Thujone is a natural terpenoid found in many medicinal herbs, such as Artemisia absinthium (wormwood), that exhibits antioxidant, anti-diabetic, and anti-tumorigenic effects. α,β-Thujone has numerous functions; it serves as a food ingredient, cosmetic additive, and medicinal remedy. Although the therapeutic properties of α,β-thujone were previously revealed, a comprehensive description of the mechanisms of its anti-cancer potential in choriocarcinoma is yet to be provided. To our knowledge, this study is the first to demonstrate that α,β-thujone attenuates JEG3 and JAR choriocarcinoma cells through a caspase-dependent intrinsic apoptotic pathway. Moreover, α,β-thujone was demonstrated to induce a global mitochondrial defect and ER stress in choriocarcinoma by causing mitochondrial depolarization, calcium overload, and metabolic alterations, thereby leading to energy deprivation, which eventually contributes to the increase in apoptosis of choriocarcinoma cells. Herein, we also revealed the synergistic anti-cancer activity of α,β-thujone via its sensitization effect on paclitaxel in choriocarcinoma cells. Altogether, our findings suggest that α,β-thujone is a novel, natural pharmacological compound that can be used to treat human placental choriocarcinoma.

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Jin-Young Lee, Jiyeon Ham, Whasun Lim, and Gwonhwa Song

Apomorphine is a derivative of morphine that is used for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease because of its effects on the hypothalamus. Therapeutic effects of apomorphine have also been reported for various neurological diseases and cancers. However, the molecular mechanisms of the antitumor effects of apomorphine are not clear, especially with respect to choriocarcinoma. This is the first study to elucidate the anticancer effects of apomorphine on choriocarcinoma. We found that apomorphine suppressed the viability, proliferation, ATP production, and spheroid formation of JEG3 and JAR choriocarcinoma cells. Moreover, apomorphine activated the intrinsic apoptosis pathway by activating caspases and inhibited the production of anti-apoptotic proteins in choriocarcinoma cells. Further, apomorphine caused depolarization of mitochondria, calcium overload, energy deprivation, and endoplasmic reticulum stress in JEG3 and JAR cells. We confirmed synergistic effects of apomorphine with paclitaxel, a traditional chemotherapeutic agent, and propose that apomorphine could be a potential therapeutic agent in choriocarcinoma and an important candidate for drug repositioning that could help overcome resistance to conventional chemotherapy.

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Minkyeong Lee, Changwon Yang, Gwonhwa Song, and Whasun Lim

The reproductive tract in avian females is sensitive to hormonal regulation. Exogenous estrogen induces immature oviduct development to improve egg production after molting. In this process, regressed female reproductive tract is regenerated in response to the secretion of estrogen. However, there is limited knowledge on the physiological mechanisms underlying the regulation of the avian female reproductive system. In our previous study, results from microarray analysis revealed that the expression of genes encoding egg white proteins is affected during molting. Herein, we artificially induced the molting period in chickens through a zinc-containing diet. Subsequently, changes in the expression of genes encoding egg white proteins were confirmed in the oviduct tissue. The levels of MUC5B, ORM1, RTBDN, and TENP mRNA were significantly high in the oviduct, and the genes were repressed in the regression phase, whereas these were expressed in the recrudescence phase, particularly in the luminal epithelium and glandular epithelium of the oviduct, during molting. Moreover, we observed that gene expression was induced in the magnum, the site for the secretion of egg white components. Next, differences in expression levels of the four genes in normal and cancerous ovaries were compared. Collectively, results suggest that the four selected genes are expressed in the female chicken reproductive tract in response to hormonal regulation, and egg white protein-encoding genes may serve as modulators of the reproductive system in hens.