Spermatogenesis is a continuous and productive process supported by the self-renewal and differentiation of spermatogonial stem cells (SSCs), which arise from undifferentiated precursors known as gonocytes and are strictly controlled in a special ‘niche’ microenvironment in the seminiferous tubules. Sertoli cells, the only somatic cell type in the tubules, directly interact with SSCs to control their proliferation and differentiation through the secretion of specific factors. Spermatocyte meiosis is another key step of spermatogenesis, which is regulated by Sertoli cells on the luminal side of the blood–testis barrier through paracrine signaling. In this review, we mainly focus on the role of Sertoli cells in the regulation of SSC self-renewal and spermatocyte meiosis, with particular emphasis on paracrine and endocrine-mediated signaling pathways. Sertoli cell growth factors, such as glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) and fibroblast growth factor 2 (FGF2), as well as Sertoli cell transcription factors, such as ETS variant 5 (ERM; also known as ETV5), nociceptin, neuregulin 1 (NRG1), and androgen receptor (AR), have been identified as the most important upstream factors that regulate SSC self-renewal and spermatocyte meiosis. Other transcription factors and signaling pathways (GDNF–RET–GFRA1 signaling, FGF2–MAP2K1 signaling, CXCL12–CXCR4 signaling, CCL9–CCR1 signaling, FSH–nociceptin/OPRL1, retinoic acid/FSH–NRG/ERBB4, and AR/RB–ARID4A/ARID4B) are also addressed.
Su-Ren Chen and Yi-Xun Liu
Wenqian Xiong, Ling Zhang, Lan Yu, Wei Xie, Yicun Man, Yao Xiong, Hengwei Liu and Yi Liu
Endometriosis is an estrogen-dependent disease that involves the adhesion, invasion, and angiogenesis of endometrial tissues outside of the uterine cavity. We hypothesized that a link exists between estrogen and beta-catenin (β-catenin) signaling in the pathogenesis of endometriosis. Human endometrial stromal cells (HESCs) were separated from eutopic endometrial tissues that were obtained from patients with endometriosis. β-catenin expression and cells invasiveness ability were up-regulated by 17β-estradiol (E2) in an estrogen receptor (ESR)-dependent manner, whereas β-catenin siRNA abrogated this phenomenon. Moreover, co-immunoprecipitation and dual immunofluorescence studies confirmed ESR1, β-catenin, and lymphoid enhancer factor 1/T cell factor 3 co-localization in the nucleus in HESCs after E2 treatment. To determine the role of β-catenin signaling in the implantation of ectopic endometrium, we xenotransplanted eutopic endometrium from endometriosis patients into ovariectomized severe combined immunodeficiency mice. The implantation of the endometrium was suppressed by β-catenin siRNA. Collectively, studies regarding β-catenin signaling are critical for improving our understanding of the pathogenesis of estrogen-induced endometriosis, which can translate into the development of treatments and therapeutic strategies for endometriosis.
Na Li, Ling Zhang, Qi Li, Yu Du, Hengwei Liu, Yi Liu and Wenqian Xiong
Oestrogen has been reported to control the invasiveness of endometrial stromal cells in endometriosis. Notch signalling, a master regulator of cell invasion in tumours, is regulated by oestrogen in other diseases and hyperactivated in endometriotic stromal cells. Therefore, we hypothesized that an interaction between Notch signalling and oestrogen may exist in the regulation of endometrial stromal cell invasion, which is essential for the development of endometriosis. Western blot analysis of tissues showed that the expression levels of Notch components (JAG1 and NOTCH1) and Notch activity were markedly higher in ectopic endometria than in their eutopic and normal counterparts. Primary stromal cells obtained from normal endometria cultured with oestrogen presented significant increases in the expression of Notch components and Notch activity, the cytoplasmic and nuclear accumulation of NOTCH1 intracellular domain, the expression of matrix metallopeptidase 9 and vascular endothelial growth factor and cell invasiveness. Knockdown of NOTCH1 markedly alleviated oestrogen-induced matrix metallopeptidase 9 and vascular endothelial growth factor expression and cell invasion. ICI (an oestrogen receptor antagonist) also blocked these oestrogenic effects. Oestrogen-responsive elements were found in the promoters of NOTCH1 and JAG1. A luciferase reporter analysis revealed that oestrogen regulated the expression of Notch components via oestrogen receptor alpha, which bound to oestrogen-responsive elements in the JAG1 and NOTCH1 promoters. Collectively, our findings indicate that oestrogen engages in crosstalk with Notch signalling to regulate cell invasion in endometriosis via the activation of oestrogen receptor alpha and the enhancement of Notch activity. Notch signalling blockade may therefore be a novel therapeutic target for endometriosis.
Yu Du, Zhibing Zhang, Wenqian Xiong, Na Li, Hengwei Liu, Haitang He, Qi Li, Yi Liu and Ling Zhang
Endometriosis is an estrogen-dependent benign gynecological disease that shares some common features of malignancy. Epithelial–mesenchymal transition (EMT) has been recognized as a core mechanism of endometriosis. MALAT1 is widely known as EMT promoter, while miR200 family members (miR200s) are considered as EMT inhibitors. Previous studies have reported that MALAT1 upregulation and miR200s downregulation are observed in endometriosis. MiR200c has been regarded as the strongest member of miR200s to interact with MALAT1. However, whether MALAT1/miR200c regulates EMT remains largely unclear. In this study, the roles of miR200s and MALAT1 in ectopic endometrium were investigated. Additionally, the effects of E2 on EMT and MALAT1/miR200s were examined in both EECs and Ishikawa cells. Notably, E2 could upregulate MALAT1 and downregulate miR200s expression levels and induce EMT in EECs and Ishikawa cells. PHTPP, an ERβ antagonist, could reverse the effect of E2. Overexpression of miR200c and knockdown of MALAT1 significantly inhibited E2-mediated EMT, suggesting that both miR200c and MALAT1 are involved in the E2-induced EMT process in endometriosis. In addition, a reciprocal inhibition was found between miR200s and MALAT1. Therefore, the role of MALAT1/miR200c in EMT is influenced by the presence of estrogen during endometriosis development.
Hengwei Liu, Zhibing Zhang, Wenqian Xiong, Ling Zhang, Yao Xiong, Na Li, Haitang He, Yu Du and Yi Liu
Endometriosis is a benign gynecological disease that shares some characteristics with malignancy like migration and invasion. It has been reported that both hypoxia-inducible factor-1α (HIF-1α) and autophagy were upregulated in ectopic endometrium of patients with ovarian endometriosis. However, the crosstalk between HIF-1α and autophagy in the pathogenesis of endometriosis remains to be clarified. Accordingly, we investigated whether autophagy was regulated by HIF-1α, as well as whether the effect of HIF-1α on cell migration and invasion is mediated through autophagy upregulation. Here, we found that ectopic endometrium from patients with endometriosis highly expressed HIF-1α and autophagy-related protein LC3. In cultured human endometrial stromal cells (HESCs), autophagy was induced by hypoxia in a time-dependent manner and autophagy activation was dependent on HIF-1α. In addition, migration and invasion ability of HESCs were enhanced by hypoxia treatment, whereas knockdown of HIF-1α attenuated this effect. Furthermore, inhibiting autophagy with specific inhibitors and Beclin1 siRNA attenuated hypoxia triggered migration and invasion of HESCs. Taken together, these results suggest that HIF-1α promotes HESCs invasion and metastasis by upregulating autophagy. Thus, autophagy may be involved in the pathogenesis of endometriosis and inhibition of autophagy might be a novel therapeutic approach to the treatment of endometriosis.
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.
Yu-Qian Wang, Aalia Batool, Su-Ren Chen and Yi-Xun Liu
Reduced contractility of the testicular peritubular myoid (PTM) cells may contribute to human male subfertility or infertility. Transcription factor GATA4 in Sertoli and Leydig cells is essential for murine spermatogenesis, but limited attention has been paid to the potential role of GATA4 in PTM cells. In primary cultures of mouse PTM cells, siRNA knockdown of GATA4 increased the contractile activity, while GATA4 overexpression significantly attenuated the contractility of PTM cells using a collagen gel contraction assay. Using RNA sequencing and qRT-PCR, we identified a set of genes that exhibited opposite expressional alternation between Gata4 siRNA vs nontargeting siRNA-treated PTM cells and Gata4 adenovirus vs control adenovirus-treated PTM cells. Notably, ion channels, smooth muscle function, cytokines and chemokines, cytoskeleton, adhesion and extracellular matrix were the top four enriched pathways, as revealed by cluster analysis. Natriuretic peptide type B (NPPB) content was significantly upregulated by GATA4 overexpression in both PTM cells and their culture supernatant. More importantly, the addition of 100 μM NPPB could abolish the promoting effect of Gata4 silencing on PTM cell contraction. Taken together, we suggest that the inhibitory action of GATA4 on PTM cell contraction is mediated at least partly by regulating genes belonging to smooth muscle contraction pathway (e.g. Nppb).
Huijuan Zhang, Guishuan Wang, Lin Liu, Xiaolin Liang, Yu Lin, Yi-Yu Lin, Chu-Fang Chou, Mo-Fang Liu, Hefeng Huang and Fei Sun
The chromatoid body (CB) is a specific cloud-like structure in the cytoplasm of haploid spermatids. Recent findings indicate that CB is identified as a male germ cell-specific RNA storage and processing center, but its function has remained elusive for decades. In somatic cells, KH-type splicing regulatory protein (KSRP) is involved in regulating gene expression and maturation of select microRNAs (miRNAs). However, the function of KSRP in spermatogenesis remains unclear. In this study, we showed that KSRP partly localizes in CB, as a component of CB. KSRP interacts with proteins (mouse VASA homolog (MVH), polyadenylate-binding protein 1 (PABP1) and polyadenylate-binding protein 2 (PABP2)), mRNAs (Tnp2 and Odf1) and microRNAs (microRNA-182) in mouse CB. Moreover, KSRP may regulate the integrity of CB via DDX5-miRNA-182 pathway. In addition, we found abnormal expressions of CB component in testes of Ksrp-knockout mice and of patients with hypospermatogenesis. Thus, our results provide mechanistic insight into the role of KSRP in spermatogenesis.
Li-Juan Xiao, Jin-Xiang Yuan, Xin-Xin Song, Yin-Chuan Li, Zhao-Yuan Hu and Yi-Xun Liu
Stanniocalcin-1 (STC-1) is a recently discovered polypeptide hormone, while stanniocalcin-2 (STC-2) is a subsequently identified homologue of stanniocalcin-1. Although previous studies have shown that both STC-1 and -2 are involved in various physiological processes, such as ion transport, reproduction and development, their expression in the uterus and roles in implantation and early pregnancy are unclear. Here we have investigated the expression and regulation of both STC-1 and STC-2 in rat uterus during early pregnancy under various physiological conditions. We show that only basal levels of STC-1 and STC-2 mRNA were detected in the uterus from day one (D1) to day five (D5) of pregnancy. STC-2 immunostaining was gradually increased in the glandular epithelium from day two (D2), with a peak occurring on D5. High levels of both STC-1 and STC-2 mRNA were observed in the stoma cells at the implantation site on day six (D6) of pregnancy, whereas their immunostaining signals were also significant in the luminal epithelium. Basal levels of both STC-1 and STC-2 mRNA and STC-1 immunostaining were detected in the uterus with delayed implantation. After the delayed implantation was terminated by estrogen treatment, both STC-1 and STC-2 mRNA signals were significantly induced in the stroma underlying the luminal epithelium at the implantation site, and STC-2 immunostaining was also observed in the luminal epithelium surrounding the implanting blastocyst. Embryo transfer experiments further confirmed that STC-1 and STC-2 expression at the implantation sites was induced by the implanting blastocyst. Both STC-1 mRNA and immunostaining were seen in the decidualized cells from day seven (D7) to day nine (D9) of pregnancy. STC-2 mRNA was also found in the whole decidua from D7 to D9 of pregnancy; STC-2 protein, however, was strictly localized to the primary deciduas on D7 and D8, with a weak expression in the whole deciduas on D9. Consistent with the normal pregnancy process, strong STC-1 and STC-2 mRNA signals were detected in the decidualized cells under artificial decidualization, whereas only basal levels of STC-1 mRNA and immunostaining were observed in the control horn. These data suggest, for the first time, that STC-1 together with STC-2 may play important roles in the processes of implantation and decidualization in the rat.
Li-Juan Xiao, Jin-Xiang Yuan, Yin-Chuan Li, Rui Wang, Zhao-Yuan Hu and Yi-Xun Liu
The extracellular Ca2+-sensing receptor (CaR) is a member of the superfamily of G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs). It is an important mediator of a wide range of Ca2+-dependent physiological responses in various tissues. In reproductive tissues it has been reported to play a significant role in promoting or maintaining placentation. Meanwhile, another Ca2+ regulated gene stanniocalcin-1 (STC-1) has been documented to be involved in decidualization and uterine remodelling. The phenomenon that CaR mediates STC-1’s transcription responding to extracellular calcium in fish urges us to suppose that CaR, like STC-1, may also play a role in implantation and decidualization. To resolve this conjecture, we have examined the expression and hormonal regulation of the CaR gene in rat uterus during peri-implantation period.
CaR mRNA was expressed at a moderate level in the luminal epithelium of the early stage of pregnancy (from day 1 to day 3). From day 2–3 it began to be expressed more strongly in the stromal cells immediately underneath the luminal epithelium, but decreased to a basal level on day 4. From day 6 to day 9 continuously, both CaR mRNA and protein were highly expressed in the primary decidua. Expression of CaR mRNA and protein in these cells was also observed when a delayed implantation was terminated by estrogen treatment to allow the embryo implantation. In contrast, only basal level expression of the molecules was detected in the cells of animals subjected to a normal-delayed implantation or the pseudopregnant condition.
Embryo transplantation experiment confirmed that CaR expression at the implantation site was induced by the implanting blastocyst. Consistent with the normal pregnant process, CaR mRNA and protein in the cells were also induced by an artificial decidualization procedure. Further experiments demonstrated that treatment of the ovariectomized rat with estrogen or/and progesterone stimulated a high level expression of CaR mRNA in the uterine epithelial and glandular epithelium. In conclusion, CaR was specifically induced during the processes of implantation and subsequent decidualization and may play a role in these processes.