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Qiong He, Hui Chen, Connie Hau Yan Wong, Lai Ling Tsang and Hsiao Chang Chan

Our previous study has demonstrated that bicarbonate in the uterine fluid plays an indispensable role in sperm capacitation. However, the cellular mechanisms underlying the formation of bicarbonate-rich uterine fluid and the regulatory mechanism remained largely unknown. In this study, the expression profiles of bicarbonate transport/production proteins, the cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR), SLC26A6, carbonic anhydrase 2 (CAR2, CA2) and CAR12 (CA12), throughout the estrous cycle, were examined in the mouse uterus by western blot. The results showed that the maximum expression levels of the proteins examined were observed at estrus. Luminal surface pH measurements showed that the resting uterine surface pH at estrus was significantly higher than that at diestrus, which could be reduced significantly by CFTR blocker, diphenylamine-2,2′-dicarboxylic acid, SLC26A6 inhibitor, 4′,4′-diisothiocyanostilbene-2′,2′-disulfonic acid, and CA inhibitor, acetazolamide. In ovariectomized mice and primary culture of endometrial epithelial cells, estrogen could upregulate CFTR, SLC26A6, CAR2, and CAR12 expression with a corresponding increase in the bicarbonate-dependent short-circuit current (I sc) and endometrial surface pH. The present results have demonstrated dynamic changes in uterine bicarbonate secretion and expression of the proteins involved in bicarbonate secretion during the estrous cycle and suggested a novel role of estrogen in regulating uterine bicarbonate transport, which may be important for successful reproduction.

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Mark S Longtine, Baosheng Chen, Anthony O Odibo, Yan Zhong and D Michael Nelson

Human placental villi are surfaced by a multinucleated and terminally differentiated epithelium, the syncytiotrophoblast, with a subjacent layer of mononucleated cytotrophoblasts that can divide and fuse to replenish the syncytiotrophoblast. The objectives of this study were i) to develop an approach to definitively identify and distinguish cytotrophoblasts from the syncytiotrophoblast, ii) to unambiguously determine the relative susceptibility of villous cytotrophoblasts and syncytiotrophoblast to constitutive and stress-induced apoptosis mediated by caspases, and iii) to understand the progression of apoptosis in villous trophoblasts. Confocal microscopy with co-staining for E-cadherin and DNA allowed us to clearly distinguish the syncytiotrophoblast from cytotrophoblasts and identified that many cytotrophoblasts are deeply interdigitated into the syncytiotrophoblast. Staining for specific markers of caspase-mediated apoptosis indicate that apoptosis occurs readily in cytotrophoblasts but is remarkably inhibited in the syncytiotrophoblast. To determine if an apoptotic cell or cell fragment was from a cytotrophoblast or syncytiotrophoblast, we found co-staining with E-cadherin along with a marker for apoptosis was essential: in the absence of E-cadherin staining, apoptotic cytotrophoblasts would easily be mistaken as representing localized regions of apoptosis in the syncytiotrophoblast. Regions with perivillous fibrin-containing fibrinoid contain the remnants of trophoblast apoptosis, and we propose this apoptosis occurs only after physical isolation of a region of the syncytium from the main body of the syncytium. We propose models for the progression of apoptosis in villous cytotrophoblasts and for why caspase-mediated apoptosis does not occur within the syncytium of placental villi.

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Yan Cao, Ming Shen, Yi Jiang, Shao-chen Sun and Honglin Liu

Oxidative stress-induced granulosa cell (GCs) injury is believed to be a common trigger for follicular atresia. Emerging evidence indicates that excessive autophagy occurs in mammalian cells with oxidative damage. N-acetyl-5-methoxytrypamine (melatonin) has been shown to prevent GCs from oxidative injury, although the exact mechanism remains to be elucidated. Here, we first demonstrated that the suppression of autophagy through the JNK/BCL-2/BECN1 signaling is engaged in melatonin-mediated GCs protection against oxidative damage. Melatonin inhibited the loss of GCs viability, formation of GFP-MAP1LC3B puncta, accumulation of MAP1LC3B-II blots, degradation of SQSTM1 and the expression of BECN1, which was correlated with impaired activation of JNK during oxidative stress. On the other hand, blocking of autophagy and/or JNK also reduced the level of H2O2-induced GCs death, but failed to further restore GCs viability in the presence of melatonin. Particularly, the suppression of autophagy provided no additional protective effects when GCs were pretreated with JNK inhibitor and/or melatonin. Importantly, we found that the enhanced interaction between BCL-2 and BECN1 might be a responsive mechanism for autophagy suppression via the melatonin/JNK pathway. Moreover, blocking the downstream antioxidant system of melatonin using specific inhibitors further confirmed a direct role of melatonin/JNK/autophagy axis in preserving GCs survival without scavenging reactive oxygen species (ROS). Taken together, our findings uncover a novel function of melatonin in preventing GCs from oxidative damage by targeting JNK-mediated autophagy, which might contribute to develop therapeutic strategies for patients with ovulation failure-related disorders.

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Kai Zhu, Shang Li, Jiansheng Liu, Yan Hong, Zi-Jiang Chen and Yanzhi Du

Polycystic ovary syndrome, a common condition characterized by endocrine dysfunction, menstrual irregularity, anovulation and polycystic ovaries, affects 5–7% of reproductive-age women. RAB5B, which is identified by a genome-wide association study as a risk locus for this syndrome, encodes a small GTPase involved in control of receptor internalization and early endosome fusion. We found that RAB5A mRNA levels in luteinized granulosa cells of obese patients with polycystic ovary syndrome were lower than in those of obese women without the syndrome. RAB5A regulated follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH)-mediated translocation of the FSH receptor (FSHR) from the membrane to the cytoplasm and the subsequent FSH–FSHR signaling pathway. We showed that RAB5A negatively regulated aromatase expression and estradiol synthesis in human granulosa cells in association with changes in FSHR levels by way of the cAMP/PKA/CREB pathway. The regulation of FSHR by RAB5A may have been associated with two transcription factors, USF1 and USF2. In conclusion, RAB5A gene was abnormally expressed in luteinized granulosa cells of obese patients with polycystic ovary syndrome, which may help explain high FSHR levels found in this syndrome.

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Yan Xu, Miao Liu, Yi-hua Gu, Xiao-feng Jia, Yong-Mei Chen, Michelle Santos, Ai-Zhen Wu, Xiao-dong Zhang, Hui-Juan Shi and Ching-Ling C Chen

With tetraspanning topology, members of the membrane-spanning four-domain subfamily A (MS4A) may facilitate signaling or ion channel functions in many tissues. In this study, we report the cloning of a full-length cDNA from rat testis, designated Ms4a14 (Sp3111), which encodes the MS4A protein with 1139 amino acid residues. In situ hybridization and immunohistochemical analyses indicate that Ms4a14 is predominantly expressed from round spermatids to spermatozoa at specific stages in the rat testis at both the mRNA and protein level. Immunofluorescence analysis revealed that MS4A14 (SP3111) is located in the acrosome and the midpiece of the flagellum in mature sperm. Previously, we explored and reported the involvement of MS4A14 in reproductive functions, using antibody blockage during IVF and a transgenic RNA interference method in a mouse model. Our results suggested that MS4A14 is involved in fertilization and zygote division. As MS4A14 protein exists in mammals, such as humans, cows, dogs, and rodents, MS4A14 may play a ubiquitous role in mammalian reproduction.

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Wenbo Yan, Joseph Chen, Anne A Wiley, Bethany D Crean-Harris, Frank F Bartol and Carol A Bagnell

The porcine female reproductive tract undergoes estrogen receptor (ER) α-dependent development after birth (postnatal day=PND 0), the course of which can determine adult uterine function. Uterotrophic effects of relaxin (RLX) in the porcine neonate are age specific and may involve ER activation. Here, objectives were to determine effects of RLX and estrogen administered from birth on uterine and cervical growth and expression of ERα, vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), and the RLX receptor (RXFP1). On PND 0, gilts were treated with the antiestrogen ICI 182 780 (ICI) or vehicle alone and, 2 h later, were given estradiol-17β (E) or porcine RLX for 2 days. Neither RLX nor E affected uterine wet weight or protein content on PND 2. However, RLX, but not E, increased cervical wet weight and protein content when compared with controls. Pretreatment with ICI did not inhibit RLX-stimulated cervical growth. Uterine and cervical ERα increased in response to RLX, but not E. Both RLX and E increased VEGF in the uterus and cervix on PND 2. Pretreatment with ICI increased VEGF in both tissues and increased RLX-induced cervical VEGF. In the uterus E, but not RLX, increased RXFP1 mRNA. In the cervix, E increased RXFP1 gene expression whereas RLX decreased it. Results indicate that the neonatal uterus and cervix are sensitive to E and RLX and that growth responses to RLX in these tissues differ by PND 2. Effects of RLX on uterine and cervical ERα and VEGF expression may be important for neonatal reproductive tract development.

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Cai-Xia Yang, Zhao-Hui Kou, Kai Wang, Yan Jiang, Wen-Wei Mao, Qing-Yuan Sun, Hui-Zhen Sheng and Da-Yuan Chen

In cloned animals where somatic cell nuclei and oocytes are from the same or closely related species, the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) of the oocyte is dominantly inherited. However, in nuclear transfer (NT) embryos where nuclear donor and oocyte are from two distantly related species, the distribution of the mtDNA species is not known. Here we determined the levels of macaque and rabbit mtDNAs in macaque embryos reprogrammed by rabbit oocytes. Quantification using a real-time PCR method showed that both macaque and rabbit mtDNAs coexist in NT embryos at all preimplantation stages, with maternal mtDNA being dominant. Single NT embryos at the 1-cell stage immediately after fusion contained 2.6 × 104 copies of macaque mtDNA and 1.3 × 106 copies of rabbit mtDNA. Copy numbers of both mtDNA species did not change significantly from the 1-cell to the morula stages. In the single blastocyst, however, the number of rabbit mtDNA increased dramatically while macaque mtDNA decreased. The ratio of nuclear donor mtDNA to oocyte mtDNA dropped sharply from 2% at the 1-cell stage to 0.011% at the blastocyst stage. These results suggest that maternal mtDNA replicates after the morula stage.

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Ma Tian-Zhong, Chen Bi, Zhang Ying, Jing Xia, Peng Cai-Ling, Zhang Yun-Shan, Huang Mei-Wen and Niu Yan-Ru


Emx2 deletion impairs the growth and maintenance of the genital ridge. However, its role in subsequent germ cell differentiation during embryonic stages is unknown. Using a tamoxifen-inducible Cre-loxP mouse model (Emx2 flox/flox, Cre-ER TM, hereafter called as Emx2 knockdown), we showed that germ cell differentiation was impaired in Emx2-knockdown testes. Representative characteristics of male germ cell differentiation, including a reduced ability to form embryonic germ (EG) cell colonies in vitro, down-regulation of pluripotency markers and G1/G0 arrest, did not occur in Emx2-knockdown testes. Furthermore, FGF9 and NODAL signalling occurred at abnormally high levels in Emx2-knockdown testes. Both blocking FGF9 signalling with SU5402 and inhibiting NODAL signalling with SB431542 allowed germ cells from Emx2-knockdown testes to differentiate in vitro. Therefore, EMX2 in somatic cells is required to trigger germ cell differentiation in XY foetuses, posterior to its previously reported role in the growth and maintenance of the genital ridge.

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Muyun Wei, Ying Gao, Bingru Lu, Yulian Jiao, Xiaowen Liu, Bin Cui, Shengnan Hu, Linying Sun, Shaowei Mao, Jing Dong, Lei Yan, Zijiang Chen and Yueran Zhao

Defective decidualization of human endometrial stromal cells (ESCs) has recently been highlighted as an underlying cause of implantation failure. FK-506-binding protein 51 (FKBP51) has been shown to participate in the steroid hormone response and the protein kinase B (AKT) regulation process, both of which are important pathways involved in decidualization. The objective of the present study was to investigate the potential effects and mechanisms of FKBP51 in the regulation of ESC decidualization. By performing immunohistochemical staining on an endometrial tissue microarray (TMA) derived from normal females, we found that FKBP51 expression was much higher in the luteal phase than in the follicular phase in ESCs. Primary ESCs were isolated from patients to build an in vitro decidualization model through co-culture with medroxyprogesterone acetate (MPA) and 8-bromoadenosine (cAMP). SC79, a specific AKT activator in various physiological and pathological conditions, and shRNA-FKBP51 were used to examine the roles of AKT and FKBP51 in decidualization. The Western blot and RT-PCR results showed that FKBP51, insulin-like growth factor-binding protein 1 (IGFBP1) and prolactin (PRL) expression increased in ESCs treated with MPA + cAMP; meanwhile, the level of p-Ser473 AKT (p-S473 AKT) decreased and forkhead box protein O1 (FOXO1A) expression increased. Decidualization was inhibited by the AKT activator SC79 and the transfection of FKBP51-shRNA by affecting protein synthesis, cell morphology, cell growth and cell cycle. Furthermore, this inhibition was rescued by FKBP51-cDNA transfection. The results supported that FKBP51 promotes decidualization by reducing the Ser473 phosphorylation levels in AKT.

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Huijuan Liao, Yan Chen, Yulong Li, Shaolong Xue, Mingfeng Liu, Ziyuan Lin, Yanyan Liu, Hsiao Chang Chan, Xiaohu Zhang and Huaqin Sun

Mutations in the cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) gene affect fertility in both sexes. However, the involvement of CFTR in regulating germ cell development remains largely unknown. Here, we used zebrafish model to investigate the role of CFTR in primordial germ cells (PGCs) development. We generated a cftr frameshift mutant zebrafish line using CRISPR/Cas9 technique and investigated the migration of PGCs during early embryo development. Our results showed that loss of Cftr impairs the migration of PGCs from dome stages onward. The migration of PGCs was also perturbed by treatment of CFTRinh-172, a gating-specific CFTR channel inhibitor. Moreover, defected PGCs migration in cftr mutant embryos can be partially rescued by injection of WT but not other channel-defective mutant cftr mRNAs. Finally, we observed the elevation of cxcr4b, cxcl12a, rgs14a and ca15b, key factors involved in zebrafish PGCs migration, in cftr-mutant zebrafish embryos. Taken together, the present study revealed an important role of CFTR acting as an ion channel in regulating PGCs migration during early embryogenesis. Defect of which may impair germ cell development through elevation of key factors involved in cell motility and response to chemotactic gradient in PGCs.