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Xiu Shi, Wei Xu, Hui-Hua Dai, Ying Sun and Xiu-Li Wang

To compare the expression patterns of steroid receptor coactivators (SRCs) and steroid-induced stromal cell-derived factor 1 (CXCL12 (SDF1)) in normal and ectopic endometrium and to explore the roles of NCOA1 (SRC1) and NCOA2 (SRC2) in the steroid-induced CXCL12 expression in normal and ectopic endometrial stromal cells (ESCs). The NCOA1, NCOA2, NCOA3 (SRC3), and CXCL12 (SDF1)α mRNA levels in normal and ectopic endometrium were analyzed by quantitative real-time PCR. Steroid-induced CXCL12 expression was detected by the ELISA method and the chemotactic activity of conditioned supernatant to monocyte was assessed by the Boyden chamber method before and after the silencing of NCOA1 or NCOA2 with siRNA in normal and ectopic ESCs. The expression of NCOA1 and CXCL12 in ectopic endometrium was significantly greater than that in normal endometrium in the secretory phase. Progesterone (P4) was able to significantly inhibit estradiol (E2)-stimulated CXCL12 expression in normal and ectopic ESCs. The inhibitory rate of P4 in ectopic ESCs at 72 and 96 h was significantly lower than that in normal ESCs. Silencing of NCOA1 but not NCOA2 significantly reduced the E2-induced CXCL12 expression in normal and ectopic ESCs. The ability of P4 to inhibit E2-induced CXCL12 expression and monocyte chemotaxis in normal and ectopic ESCs was significantly attenuated when NCOA2 was silenced. NCOA1 plays a necessary role in E2-induced CXCL12 expression and NCOA2 is required for P4 to inhibit the E2-induced CXCL12 production in normal and ectopic endometrium.

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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.

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Liang Yu, Rong Hu, Claretta Sullivan, R James Swanson, Sergio Oehninger, Ying-Pu Sun and Silvina Bocca

This study investigated the role of milk fat globule-epidermal growth factor-factor 8 (MFGE8) in TGF-β-induced epithelial–mesenchymal transition (EMT) of endometrial epithelial cells. These were in vitro studies using human endometrial epithelial cells and mouse blastocysts. We investigated the ability of TGF-β to induce EMT in endometrial epithelial cells (HEC-1A) by assessment of cytological phenotype (by light and atomic force microscopy), changes in expression of the markers of cell adhesion/differentiation E- and N-cadherin, and of the transcription factor Snail (by immunofluorescence and immunoblotting), and competence to support embryo attachment in a mouse blastocyst outgrowth assay. We also studied the effects of E-cadherin expression in cells transfected by retroviral shRNA vectors specifically silencing MFGE8. Results demonstrated that TGF-β induced EMT as demonstrated by phenotypic cell changes, by a switch of cadherin expression as well as by upregulation of the expression of the mesenchymal markers Snail and Vimentin. Upon MFGE8 knockdown, these processes were interfered with, suggesting that MFGE8 and TGF-β together may participate in regulation of EMT. This study demonstrated for the first time that endometrial MFGE8 modulates TGF-β-induced EMT in human endometrium cells.

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Lanlan Fang, Sijia Wang, Yiran Li, Yiping Yu, Yuxi Li, Yang Yan, Jung-Chien Cheng and Ying-Pu Sun

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is the most common cause of female infertility. Growth differentiation factor-8 (GDF-8) is expressed in the ovary and can be detected in human follicular fluid which provides an important microenvironment for maintaining physiological functions of the ovarian follicle. To date, the relationship between GDF-8 levels in follicular fluid and the risk of PCOS is completely unknown. In the present study, we show that during the process of the controlled ovarian hyperstimulation (COH), serum GDF-8 levels are higher on the day of gonadotropin administration and 14 days after embryo transfer in in vitro fertilization (IVF) patients with PCOS than they are in IVF patients without PCOS. Importantly, GDF-8 levels in follicular fluid at oocyte retrieval are also higher in PCOS patients than in non-PCOS patients. Treatment of primary human granulosa-lutein (hGL) cells with GDF-8 downregulates StAR protein expression and the inhibition is more pronounced in hGL cells from PCOS patients than it is in cells from non-PCOS patients. Importantly, high GDF-8 levels and low progesterone (P4) levels were associated with poor pregnancy outcomes in PCOS patients. Our results provide the first evidence that aberrant expression of GDF-8 in the follicular fluid of PCOS patients results in abnormal P4 expression, which leads to poor pregnancy outcomes.

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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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Chencheng Yao, Yun Liu, Min Sun, Minghui Niu, Qingqing Yuan, Yanan Hai, Ying Guo, Zheng Chen, Jingmei Hou, Yang Liu and Zuping He

Spermatogenesis is composed of three distinctive phases, which include self-renewal of spermatogonia via mitosis, spermatocytes undergoing meiosis I/II and post-meiotic development of haploid spermatids via spermiogenesis. Spermatogenesis also involves condensation of chromatin in the spermatid head before transformation of spermatids to spermatozoa. Epigenetic regulation refers to changes of heritably cellular and physiological traits not caused by modifications in the DNA sequences of the chromatin such as mutations. Major advances have been made in the epigenetic regulation of spermatogenesis. In this review, we address the roles and mechanisms of epigenetic regulators, with a focus on the role of microRNAs and DNA methylation during mitosis, meiosis and spermiogenesis. We also highlight issues that deserve attention for further investigation on the epigenetic regulation of spermatogenesis. More importantly, a thorough understanding of the epigenetic regulation in spermatogenesis will provide insightful information into the etiology of some unexplained infertility, offering new approaches for the treatment of male infertility.

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Ji-Wen Yang, Zi-Li Lei, Yi-Liang Miao, Jun-Cheng Huang, Li-Hong Shi, Ying-Chun OuYang, Qing-Yuan Sun and Da-Yuan Chen

This study was carried out to investigate the contributions of chromosomes to spindle assembly in mouse oocytes. We generated two groups of cytoplasts (holo- and hemi-cytoplasts) by enucleation of germinal vesicle (GV), metaphase I (MI), and metaphase II (MII) oocytes using micromanipulation technology. After in vitro culture for 18 h, spindles with different shapes (bi-, mono-, or multipolar) formed in most of these cytoplasts except in hemi-GV cytoplasts. Two or more spindles were observed in most of holo-GV, holo-MI, and holo-MII cytoplasts (76.1, 77.0, and 83.7% respectively). However, the proportions of hemi-MI and hemi-MII cytoplasts with multiple sets of spindles decreased to 17.6 and 20.7% respectively. A single bipolar spindle was observed in each sham-operated oocyte generated by removing different volumes of cytoplasm from the oocytes and keeping nuclei intact. Localization of γ-tubulin showed that microtubule organizing centers (MTOCs) were dispersed at each pole of the multiple sets of spindles formed in holo-cytoplasts. However, most of the MTOCs aggregated at the two poles of the bipolar spindle in sham-operated oocytes. Our results demonstrate that chromosomes are not essential for initiating spindle assembly but for directing distinct MTOCs to aggregate to form a bipolar spindle. Some factors of undetermined nature may pre-exist in an inactive form in GV-stage ooplasm, serving as initiators of spindle assembly upon their activation. Moreover, GV materials released into the cytoplasm may facilitate spindle assembly in normal meiotic maturation.

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Yan Wang, Hualin Huang, Minghua Zeng, Ru-Ping Quan, Jun-Ting Yang, Dan Guo, Ying Sun, Hongwen Deng and Hongmei Xiao

In this study, we investigated a gene-edited (Zp2 MT/MT) rat model of infertility caused by the failure to express the zona pellucida glycoprotein 2 (ZP2) due to the significant reduction of mRNA amount. We examined the defects in the zona pellucida (ZP) caused by ZP2 nullification and the influence of these defects on aspects of oocyte development, including apoptosis and fertilization ability. To investigate the cause of the influence to the oocytes’ development, we evaluated the morphology of follicular transzonal projections (TZPs), known as ‘bridges’, which mediate the bidirectional signaling between the oocyte and surrounding granulosa cells and the level of reactive oxygen species (ROS) in ovulated eggs. Our results showed that two types of ZP defects were generated in the Zp2 MT/MT rat,that is, ZP intact but thinned and ZP cracked (or even absent). The fertilization rate of the ovulated eggs reduced in both types, while increased oocyte apoptosis was observed only in the latter type. Moreover, the increased oocyte apoptosis rate correlated closely with the reduction in follicular TZPs and increased ROS levels in ovulated egg. In conclusion, nullification of rat ZP2 destroyed the integrity of the ZP, impaired the bidirectional signaling between the oocyte and surrounding granulosa cells. Therefore, the resulting infertility likely occurs via elevation of oxidative stress and oocytes apoptosis.

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Hong-Jie Yuan, Zhi-Bin Li, Xin-Yue Zhao, Guang-Yi Sun, Guo-Liang Wang, Ying-Qi Zhao, Min Zhang and Jing-He Tan

Mechanisms by which female stress and particularly glucocorticoids impair oocyte competence are largely unclear. Although one study demonstrated that glucocorticoids triggered apoptosis in ovarian cells and oocytes by activating the FasL/Fas system, other studies suggested that they might induce apoptosis through activating other signaling pathways as well. In this study, both in vivo and in vitro experiments were conducted to test the hypothesis that glucocorticoids might trigger apoptosis in oocytes and ovarian cells through activating the TNF-α system. The results showed that cortisol injection of female mice (1.) impaired oocyte developmental potential and mitochondrial membrane potential with increased oxidative stress; (2.) induced apoptosis in mural granulosa cells (MGCs) with increased oxidative stress in the ovary; and (3.) activated the TNF-α system in both ovaries and oocytes. Culture with corticosterone induced apoptosis and activated the TNF-α system in MGCs. Knockdown or knockout of TNF-α significantly ameliorated the pro-apoptotic effects of glucocorticoids on oocytes and MGCs. However, culture with corticosterone downregulated TNF-α expression significantly in oviductal epithelial cells. Together, the results demonstrated that glucocorticoids impaired oocyte competence and triggered apoptosis in ovarian cells through activating the TNF-α system and that the effect of glucocorticoids on TNF-α expression might vary between cell types.

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Li-Ying Yan, Jun-Cheng Huang, Zi-Yu Zhu, Zi-Li Lei, Li-Hong Shi, Chang-Long Nan, Zhen-Jun Zhao, Ying-Chun OuYang, Xiang-Fen Song, Qing-Yuan Sun and Da-Yuan Chen

The assembly of microtubules and the distribution of NuMA were analyzed in rabbit oocytes and early cloned embryos. α-Tubulin was localized around the periphery of the germinal vesicle (GV). After germinal vesicle breakdown (GVBD), multi-arrayed microtubules were found tightly associated with the condensed chromosomes and assembled into spindles. After the enucleated oocyte was fused with a fibroblast, microtubules were observed around the introduced nucleus in most reconstructed embryos and formed a transient spindle 2–4 h post-fusion (hpf). A mass of microtubules surrounded the swollen pseudo-pronucleus 5 hpf and a normal spindle was formed 13 hpf in cloned embryos. NuMAwas detected in the nucleus in germinal vesicle-stage oocytes, and it was concentrated at the spindle poles in both meiotic and mitotic metaphase. In both donor cell nucleus and enucleated oocyte cytoplasm, NuMA was not detected, while NuMA reappeared in pseudo-pronucleus as reconstructed embryo development proceeded. However, no evident NuMA staining was observed in the poles of transient spindle and first mitotic spindle in nuclear transfer eggs. These results indicate that NuMA localization and its spindle pole tethering function are different during rabbit oocyte meiosis and cloned embryo mitosis.