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Yang Gao, Haixia Wen, Chao Wang and Qinglei Li

Transforming growth factor β (TGFβ) superfamily signaling is essential for female reproduction. Dysregulation of the TGFβ signaling pathway can cause reproductive diseases. SMA and MAD (mothers against decapentaplegic) (SMAD) proteins are downstream signaling transducers of the TGFβ superfamily. SMAD7 is an inhibitory SMAD that regulates TGFβ signaling in vitro. However, the function of SMAD7 in the ovary remains poorly defined. To determine the signaling preference and potential role of SMAD7 in the ovary, we herein examined the expression, regulation, and function of SMAD7 in mouse granulosa cells. We showed that SMAD7 was expressed in granulosa cells and subject to regulation by intraovarian growth factors from the TGFβ superfamily. TGFB1 (TGFβ1), bone morphogenetic protein 4, and oocyte-derived growth differentiation factor 9 (GDF9) were capable of inducing Smad7 expression, suggesting a modulatory role of SMAD7 in a negative feedback loop. Using a small interfering RNA approach, we further demonstrated that SMAD7 was a negative regulator of TGFB1. Moreover, we revealed a link between SMAD7 and GDF9-mediated oocyte paracrine signaling, an essential component of oocyte–granulosa cell communication and folliculogenesis. Collectively, our results suggest that SMAD7 may function during follicular development via preferentially antagonizing and/or fine-tuning essential TGFβ superfamily signaling, which is involved in the regulation of oocyte–somatic cell interaction and granulosa cell function.

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Zhuxia Zheng, Hongmei Li, Qinfen Zhang, Lele Yang and Huayu Qi

Cell lineage determination during early embryogenesis has profound effects on adult animal development. Pre-patterning of embryos, such as that of Drosophila and Caenorhabditis elegans, is driven by asymmetrically localized maternal or zygotic factors, including mRNA species and RNA binding proteins. However, it is not clear how mammalian early embryogenesis is regulated and what the early cell fate determinants are. Here we show that, in mouse, mitochondrial ribosomal RNAs (mtrRNAs) are differentially distributed between 2-cell sister blastomeres. This distribution pattern is not related to the overall quantity or activity of mitochondria which appears equal between 2-cell sister blastomeres. Like in lower species, 16S mtrRNA is found to localize in the cytoplasm outside of mitochondria in mouse 2-cell embryos. Alterations of 16S mtrRNA levels in one of the 2-cell sister blastomere via microinjection of either sense or anti-sense RNAs drive its progeny into different cell lineages in blastocyst. These results indicate that mtrRNAs are differentially distributed among embryonic cells at the beginning of embryogenesis in mouse and they are functionally involved in the regulation of cell lineage allocations in blastocyst, suggesting an underlying molecular mechanism that regulates pre-implantation embryogenesis in mouse.

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Zi-gang Shen, Wei He, Ji Zhang, Hai-yang He, Xia Yang, Zheng-qiong Chen, Ping Yang, Jian Li, Zhi-qing Liang, Yu-zhang Wu and Jin-tao Li

SPINLW1 (previously known as eppin (epididymal protease inhibitor)) is a target under intense scrutiny in the study of male contraceptive vaccines. B-cell-dominant epitopes are now recognized as key parts of the induction of humoral immune responses against target antigens. The generation of robust humoral responses in vivo has become a crucial problem in the development of modern vaccines. In this study, we developed a completely novel B-cell-dominant-epitope-based mimovirus vaccine, which is a kind of virus-size particulate antigen delivery system. The mimovirus successfully self-assembled from a cationic peptide containing a cell-penetrating peptide of TAT49–57 and a plasmid DNA encoding both three SPINLW1 (103–115) copies and adjuvant C3d3. The male mice were immunized with the epitope-based mimovirus vaccine, which resulted in a gradual elevation of specific serum IgG antibody levels. These reached a peak at week 4. Mating for the fertility assay showed that the mimovirus vaccine had accomplished a moderate fertility inhibition effect and investigation into the mechanism of action showed that it did so by interfering with the reproductive function of the sperm but that it did not damage the structures of the testes or cause serum testosterone to decline. Our results suggest an ideal protocol for suppressing fertility in mice by an engineered mimovirus vaccine.

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Hui-Li Yang, Wen-Jie Zhou, Kai-Kai Chang, Jie Mei, Li-Qing Huang, Ming-Yan Wang, Yi Meng, Si-Yao Ha, Da-Jin Li and Ming-Qing Li

The dysfunction of NK cells in women with endometriosis (EMS) contributes to the immune escape of menstrual endometrial fragments refluxed into the peritoneal cavity. The reciprocal communications between endometrial stromal cells (ESCs) and lymphocytes facilitate the development of EMS. However, the mechanism of these communications on cytotoxicity of natural killer (NK) cells in endometriotic milieus is still largely unknown. To imitate the local immune microenvironment, the co-culture systems of ESCs from patients with EMS and monocyte-derived macrophages or of ESCs, macrophages and NK cells were constructed. The cytokine levels in the co-culture unit were evaluated by ELISA. The expression of functional molecules in NK cells was detected by flow cytometry (FCM). The NK cell behaviors in vitro were analyzed by cell counting kit-8 and cytotoxic activation assays. After incubation with ESCs and macrophages, the expression of CD16, NKG2D, perforin and IFN-γ, viability and cytotoxicity of NK cells were significantly downregulated. The secretion of interleukin (IL)-1β, IL-10 and transforming growth factor (TGF)-β in the co-culture system of ESCs and macrophages was increased. Exposure with anti-IL-10 receptor β neutralizing antibody (αhIL-10Rβ) or αTGF-β could partly reverse these effects of ESCs and macrophages on NK cells in vitro. These results suggest that the interaction between macrophages and ESCs downregulates cytotoxicity of NK cells possibly by stimulating the secretion of IL-10 and TGF-β, and may further trigger the immune escape of ectopic fragments and promote the occurrence and the development of EMS.

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Yu-Xiang Liang, Wei Hu, Zhi-Yong Jin, Hong-Lu Diao, Li Liu, Yan Yang, Tao Fu and Zeng-Ming Yang

Embryo implantation and decidualization are crucial steps during early pregnancy. We recently showed that nucleolar stress is involved in embryo implantation. This study was to explore whether nucleolar stress participates in mouse and human decidualization. Our data demonstrated that a low-dose of actinomycin D (ActD) could induce nucleolar stress in stroma cells. Nucleolar stress promotes the stromal-epithelial transition during mouse in vitro decidualization through nucleophosmin1 (NPM1). Under nucleolar stress, Wnt family member 4 (Wnt4), a decidualization marker, is significantly increased, but decidua/trophoblast prolactin-related protein (Dtprp/Prl8a2) expression remains unchanged. For translational significance, we also examined effects of nucleolar stress on human decidualization. Nucleolar stress stimulated by a low-dose of ActD enhances human stromal-epithelial transition during human decidualization, but has no effects on the expression of insulin-like growth factor binding protein 1 (IGFBP1). Our study indicates that nucleolar stress may promote only the mesenchymal-epithelial transition (MET), but not for all the molecular changes during decidualization.

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Jingmei Hou, Shi Yang, Hao Yang, Yang Liu, Yun Liu, Yanan Hai, Zheng Chen, Ying Guo, Yuehua Gong, Wei-Qiang Gao, Zheng Li and Zuping He

Infertility is a major and largely incurable disease caused by disruption and loss of germ cells. It affects 10–15% of couples, and male factor accounts for half of the cases. To obtain human male germ cells ‘especially functional spermatids’ is essential for treating male infertility. Currently, much progress has been made on generating male germ cells, including spermatogonia, spermatocytes, and spermatids, from various types of stem cells. These germ cells can also be used in investigation of the pathology of male infertility. In this review, we focused on advances on obtaining male differentiated germ cells from different kinds of stem cells, with an emphasis on the embryonic stem (ES) cells, the induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, and spermatogonial stem cells (SSCs). We illustrated the generation of male differentiated germ cells from ES cells, iPS cells and SSCs, and we summarized the phenotype for these stem cells, spermatocytes and spermatids. Moreover, we address the differentiation potentials of ES cells, iPS cells and SSCs. We also highlight the advantages, disadvantages and concerns on derivation of the differentiated male germ cells from several types of stem cells. The ability of generating mature and functional male gametes from stem cells could enable us to understand the precise etiology of male infertility and offer an invaluable source of autologous male gametes for treating male infertility of azoospermia patients.

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Chubin Qin, Li Xu, Yalin Yang, Suxu He, Yingying Dai, Huiying Zhao and Zhigang Zhou

To increase the knowledge of probiotic effects on zebrafish (Danio rerio), we compare the effects of two probiotic strains, Lactobacillus rhamnosus CICC 6141 (a highly adhesive strain) and Lactobacillus casei BL23 (a weakly adhesive strain), on zebrafish reproduction and their offsprings' innate level of immunity to water-borne pathogens. During probiotics treatments from 7 to 28 days, both the Lactobacillus strains, and especially L. casei BL23, significantly increased fecundity in zebrafish: higher rates of egg ovulation, fertilization, and hatching were observed. Increased densities of both small and large vitellogenic follicles, seen in specimens fed either Lactobacillus strain, demonstrated accelerated oocyte maturation. Feeding either strain of Lactobacillus upregulated gene expression of leptin, kiss2, gnrh3, fsh, lh, lhcgr, and paqr8, which were regarded to enhance fecundity and encourage oocyte maturation. Concomitantly, the gene expression of bmp15 and tgfb1 was inhibited, which code for local factors that prevent oocyte maturation. The beneficial effects of the Lactobacillus strains on fecundity diminished after feeding of the probiotics was discontinued, even for the highly adhesive gut Lactobacillus strain. Administering L. rhamnosus CICC 6141 for 28 days was found to affect the innate immunity of offspring derived from their parents, as evinced by a lower level of alkaline phosphatase activity in early larval stages. This study highlights the effects of probiotics both upon the reproductive process and upon the offsprings' immunity during early developmental stages.

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BiJun Wang, Jing Li, QingLing Yang, FuLi Zhang, MengMeng Hao and YiHong Guo

This study aimed to explore the association between soluble receptor for advanced glycation end products (sRAGE) levels in follicular fluid and the number of oocytes retrieved and to evaluate the effect of sRAGE on vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) in granulosa cells in patients with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). Two sets of experiments were performed in this study. In part one, sRAGE and VEGF protein levels in follicular fluid samples from 39 patients with PCOS and 35 non-PCOS patients were measured by ELISA. In part two, ovarian granulosa cells were isolated from an additional 10 patients with PCOS and cultured. VEGF and SP1 mRNA and protein levels, as well as pAKT levels, were detected by real-time PCR and Western blotting after cultured cells were treated with different concentrations of sRAGE. Compared with the non-PCOS patients, patients with PCOS had lower sRAGE levels in follicular fluid. Multi-adjusted regression analysis showed that high sRAGE levels in follicular fluid predicted a lower Gn dose, more oocytes retrieved, and a better IVF outcome in the non-PCOS group. Logistic regression analysis showed that higher sRAGE levels predicted favorably IVF outcomes in the non-PCOS group. Multi-adjusted regression analysis also showed that high sRAGE levels in follicular fluid predicted a lower Gn dose in the PCOS group. Treating granulosa cells isolated from patients with PCOS with recombinant sRAGE decreased VEGF and SP1 mRNA and protein expression and pAKT levels in a dose-dependent manner.

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Jinbi Zhang, Yang Liu, Wang Yao, Qifa Li, Honglin Liu and Zengxiang Pan

In mammals, more than 99% of ovarian follicles undergo a degenerative process known as atresia. The molecular events involved in atresia initiation remain incompletely understood. The objective of this study was to analyze differential gene expression profiles of medium antral ovarian follicles during early atresia in pig. The transcriptome evaluation was performed on cDNA microarrays using healthy and early atretic follicle samples and was validated by quantitative PCR. Annotation analysis applying current database (Sus scrofa 11.1) revealed 450 significantly differential expressed genes between healthy and early atretic follicles. Among them, 142 were significantly upregulated in early atretic with respect to healthy group and 308 were downregulated. Similar expression trends were observed between microarray data and quantitative RT-PCR confirmation, which indicated the reliability of the microarray analysis. Further analysis of the differential expressed genes revealed the most significantly affected biological functions during early atresia including blood vessel development, regulation of DNA-templated transcription in response to stress and negative regulation of cell adhesion. The pathway and interaction analysis suggested that atresia initiation associates with (1) a crosstalk of cell apoptosis, autophagy and ferroptosis rather than change of typical apoptosis markers, (2) dramatic shift of steroidogenic enzymes, (3) deficient glutathione metabolism and (4) vascular degeneration. The novel gene candidates and pathways identified in the current study will lead to a comprehensive view of the molecular regulation of ovarian follicular atresia and a new understanding of atresia initiation.