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Ying Wang, Baosheng Chen, Mark S Longtine, and D Michael Nelson

Punicalagin is a prominent polyphenol in pomegranate juice that protects cultured syncytiotrophoblasts from stress-induced apoptosis. Here, we test the hypothesis that punicalagin has this effect by inhibiting the mTOR kinase pathway to enhance autophagic turnover and limit apoptosis in cultured primary human syncytiotrophoblasts. In syncytiotrophoblasts, starvation, rapamycin, or punicalagin all decreased the expression of phosphorylated ribosomal protein S6, a downstream target of the mTOR kinase, and of the autophagy markers, LC3-II and p62. In contrast, in the presence of bafilomycin, an inhibitor of late stages of autophagy and degradation in the autophagolysosome, syncytiotrophoblasts exposed to starvation, rapamycin, or punicalagin all showed increased levels of LC3-II and p62. The number of LC3-II punctae also increased in punicalagin-treated syncytiotrophoblasts exposed to chloroquine, another inhibitor of autophagic degradation, and punicalagin increased the number of lysosomes. The apoptosis-reducing effect of punicalagin was attenuated by inhibition of autophagy using bafilomycin or knockdown of the autophagy related gene, ATG16L1. Collectively, these data support the hypothesis that punicalagin modulates the crosstalk between autophagy and apoptosis to promote survival in cultured syncytiotrophoblasts.

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Xiaolin Chen, Lili Huang, Hwee Y Tan, Hongzhuo Li, Ying Wan, Michael Cowley, Johannes D Veldhuis, and Chen Chen

Deletion of the melanocortin-4-receptor (Mc4r) gene in mice causes hyperphagia, followed by hyperinsulinemia, obesity and progressive infertility. Evidence shows that the number of developed corpora lutea is reduced in obese MC4R-knockout (MC4R KO) female mice, but the mechanism is unclear. The effect of hyperphagia and obesity by MC4R KO on pulsatile luteinizing hormone (LH) secretion and ovulation remains unknown. In MC4R KO mice and wild-type littermates (WT LM) during the diestrus period throughout different ages, we examined and monitored their metabolic status, pulsatile LH profiles, follicular morphology and the number of corpora lutea. MC4R KO mice were hyperphagic, obese, hyperglycemic, hyperinsulinemic and demonstrated insulin resistance and hepatic steatosis. Irregular estrous cycles and significant changes in the LH secretion profiles were observed in sexually matured 16- to 28-week MC4R KO mice, without any difference in testosterone levels. In addition, MC4R KO mice at 16 weeks of age had significantly fewer corpora lutea than same age WT LM mice. The ovary examinations of MC4R KO mice at 28 weeks of age showed predominantly antral and preovulatory follicles with no corpora lutea. These findings were consistent with the decrease in total, pulsatile, mass and basal LH releases in MC4R KO mice. The characteristics of hormone profiles in obese MC4R KO mice indicate that MC4R plays an important role in regulating LH release, ovulation and reproductive ability probably via hyperphagia-induced obesity. Further study of correlation between metabolic and reproductive regulatory hormones is warranted to dissect the pathological mechanism underlying obesity-induced infertility.

Free Chinese abstract: A Chinese translation of this abstract is freely available at

Free access

Chen Xu, Xingji You, Weina Liu, Qianqian Sun, Xiaoying Ding, Ying Huang, and Xin Ni

Prostaglandin F2α (PGF2A) has multiple roles in the birth process in addition to its vital contractile role. Our previous study has demonstrated that PGF2A can modulate uterine activation proteins (UAPs) in cultured pregnant human myometrial smooth muscle cells (HMSMCs). The objective of this study was to define the signalling pathways responsible for PGF2A modulation of UAPs in myometrium. It was found that PGF2A stimulated the expression of (GJA1) connexin 43 (CX43), prostaglandin endoperoxide synthase 2 (PTGS2) and oxytocin receptor (OTR) in cultured HMSMCs. The inhibitors of phospholipase C (PLC) and protein kinase C (PKC) blocked PGF2A-stimulated expression of CX43. The inhibitors of ERK, P38 and NFκB also blocked the effect of PGF2A on CX43 expression, whereas PI3K and calcineurin/nuclear factor of activated T-cells (NFAT) pathway inhibitors did not reverse the effect of PGF2A on CX43. For PTGS2 and OTR, PLC, PI3K, P38 and calcineurin/NFAT signalling pathways were involved in PGF2A action, whereas PKC and NFκB signalling were not involved. In addition, PGF2A activated NFAT, PI3K, NFκB, ERK and P38 signalling pathways. Our data suggest that PGF2A stimulates CX43, PTGS2 and OTR through divergent signalling pathways.

Free access

Fei Qu, Xiaoqian Ying, Wei Guo, Qiangsu Guo, Guowu Chen, Yue Liu, and Zhide Ding

Sperm motility is essential for male reproduction or natural fertilization. The cyclic AMP (cAMP)/cAMP-dependent protein kinase A (PKA) signaling pathway is generally recognized as one of the significant signaling pathways in the regulation of mammalian spermatozoan motility. Since Zn-α2-glycoprotein (ZAG) activity in mammalian adipose tissue is mediated via the β3-adrenoreceptor, with upregulation of the cAMP pathway, we hypothesize that ZAG may play the same role in sperm motility regulation, a new factor of regulation of sperm motility. Therefore, the gene encoding human ZAG was cloned and polyclonal antibodies were generated, and then laser scanning confocal microscopy and flow cytometry were employed to identify this protein in human spermatozoa. The results showed that ZAG protein was mostly localized on the pre-equatorial region covering the acrosome, neck, and middle piece of the flagellum of spermatozoa. Furthermore, using computer-assisted sperm analysis, we found that anti-human ZAG antibodies could significantly reduce the motility of human swim-up spermatozoa after 90- or 120-min incubation (P<0.05 and P<0.01 respectively), together with the decreasing of intracellular cAMP and PKA levels. In conclusion, these data suggest that ZAG is present in human spermatozoa and may be involved in the regulation of sperm motility via the cAMP/PKA signaling pathway.

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Sha Peng, Jing Li, Chenglin Miao, Liwei Jia, Zeng Hu, Ping Zhao, Juxue Li, Ying Zhang, Qi Chen, and Enkui Duan

Dickkopf-1 (Dkk1) is one of the secreted antagonists in the canonical Wnt signaling pathway. It plays important roles in diverse developmental processes. However, the role of Dkk1 in trophoblast cell invasion during placentation remains unclear. In this study, we found that Dkk1 was mainly expressed in maternal decidual tissue but trivially in ectoplacental cones (EPCs) in day 8 post coitum (p.c.) pregnant mouse uterus and that the efficiency of EPC attachment and outgrowth was increased when co-cultured with decidual cells, which secreted Dkk1, and this enhancement was abolished by pretreating decidual cells with Dkk1 blocking antibody before co-culture experiment. This indicates that Dkk1 secreted by decidual cells plays an important role in trophoblast cell invasion. Indeed, when recombinant mouse Dkk1 was added to EPCs in vitro, the efficiency of attachment and outgrowth was increased. Migration of EPCs toward the decidua was retarded when antisense Dkk1 oligonucleotide (ODN) was administered via intrauterine injection in vivo. Furthermore, the active β-catenin nuclear location was lost when we treated cultured EPCs with recombinant mouse Dkk1, and the efficiency of EPCs attachment and outgrowth was obviously increased when we treated cultured EPCs with antisense β-catenin ODN. Taken together, Dkk1 secreted by decidual cells may induce trophoblast cell invasion in the mouse and β-catenin may be involved in such functions of Dkk1.

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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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Yingying Zhou, Yangying Peng, Qingqing Xia, Dewen Yan, Huiping Zhang, Lingmin Zhang, Ying Chen, Xiumin Zhao, and Jie Li

Indian hedgehog (Ihh) signaling regulates endometrial receptivity and is an indispensable mediator of embryonic implantation. Hedgehog signaling is known to regulate autophagy, and aberrant regulation of autophagy is critically implicated in the pathogenesis of endometriosis and adenomyosis. However, potential dysregulation of Ihh signaling and its role in autophagy modulation in these diseases remain obscure. In this study, we found that components of Ihh signaling were significantly decreased, whereas the autophagy marker protein, LC3BII, was significantly increased in endometrial tissues of women with endometriosis or adenomyosis. Inhibition of Ihh signaling with the small-molecule inhibitor GANT61 or Gli1 silencing in primary endometrial stromal cells increased autophagic activity, as measured by LC3 turnover assay and tandem mCherry-eGFP-LC3B fluorescence microscopy. Furthermore, we observed that GANT61 treatment significantly attenuated hydrogen peroxide-induced cell death, whereas disruption of autophagy with chloroquine diminished this effect. Collectively, these findings reveal that Ihh signaling is suppressed in endometrial tissues of patients with endometriosis or adenomyosis. This abnormal decrease may contribute to endometrial autophagy activation, which may promote aberrant survival of endometrial cells in ectopic sites in these two gynecological diseases.

Free access

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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Ming-Huei Lin, Robert Kuo-Kuang Lee, Yuh-Ming Hwu, Chung-Hao Lu, Shian-Ling Chu, Ying-Jie Chen, Wei-Chao Chang, and Sheng-Hsiang Li

We report a secreted serine protease inhibitor Kazal-type-like (SPINKL) protein. The SPINKL protein was purified from mouse seminal vesicle secretions through a series of steps, including ion-exchange chromatography on a diethylaminoethyl-Sephacel column, gel filtration on a Sephadex G-75 column, and ion-exchange HPLC on a Q strong anion exchange column. Further analysis identified several SPINKL proteins with various N-linked carbohydrates. The SPINKL protein has six conserved cysteine residues that are nearly identical to those of members of the SPINK protein family. It was noted that the SPINKL protein showed no inhibitory activities against common serine proteases such as trypsin, chymotrypsin, subtilisin, or elastase. Spinkl mRNA and SPINKL proteins were found to be primarily expressed in seminal vesicles. Immunohistochemistry revealed that the SPINKL protein occurred in the luminal fluid and mucosal epithelium of the seminal vesicles and was regulated by testosterone. The SPINKL protein was able to bind onto sperm and enhance sperm motility. Also, it was able to suppress BSA-stimulated sperm capacitation and block sperm–oocyte interactions in vitro, suggesting that SPINKL may be a decapacitation factor.

Free access

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.