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Asghar Ali, Callie M Swanepoel, Quinton A Winger, Paul J Rozance, and Russell V Anthony

Chorionic somatomammotropin (CSH) is a placenta-specific hormone associated with fetal growth, and fetal and maternal metabolism in both humans and sheep. We hypothesized that CSH deficiency could impact sheep fetal liver glucose utilization. To generate CSH-deficient pregnancies, day 9 hatched blastocysts were infected with lentiviral particles expressing CSH-specific shRNA (RNAi) or scramble control shRNA (SC) and transferred to synchronized recipients. CSH RNAi generated two distinct phenotypes at 135 days of gestational age (dGA); pregnancies with IUGR (RNAi-IUGR) or with normal fetal weight (RNAi-NW). Fetal body, fetal liver and placental weights were reduced (P < 0.05) only in RNAi-IUGR pregnancies compared to SC. Umbilical artery plasma insulin and insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF1) concentrations were decreased, whereas insulin receptor beta (INSR) concentration in fetal liver was increased (P < 0.05) in both RNAi phenotypes. The mRNA concentrations of IGF1, IGF2, IGF binding protein 2 (IGFBP2) and IGFBP3 were decreased (P < 0.05) in fetal livers from both RNAi phenotypes. Fetal liver glycogen concentration and glycogen synthase 1 (GYS1) concentration were increased (P < 0.05), whereas fetal liver phosphorylated-GYS (inactive GYS) concentration was reduced (P < 0.05) in both RNAi phenotypes. Lactate dehydrogenase B (LDHB) concentration was increased (P < 0.05) and IGF2 concentration was decreased (P < 0.05) in RNAi-IUGR fetal livers only. Our findings suggest that fetal liver glucose utilization is impacted by CSH RNAi, independent of IUGR, and is likely tied to enhanced fetal liver insulin sensitivity in both RNAi phenotypes. Determining the physiological ramifications of both phenotypes, may help to differentiate direct effect of CSH deficiency or its indirect effect through IUGR.

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Alberto Dinarello, Giorgio Licciardello, Camilla Maria Fontana, Natascia Tiso, Francesco Argenton, and Luisa Dalla Valle

Glucocorticoids (GCs) are steroid hormones that contribute to the regulation of many physiological processes, such as inflammation, metabolism and stress response, mainly through binding to their cognate receptor, GR, which works as a ligand-activated transcription factor. Due to their pleiotropy and the common medical use of these steroids to treat patients affected by different pathologies, the investigation of their mechanisms of action is extremely important in biology and clinical research. The evolutionary conservation of GC physiological function, biosynthesis pathways, as well as the sequence and structure of the GC nuclear receptors has stimulated, in the last 20 years, the use of zebrafish (a teleost of Cyprinidae family) as a reliable model organism to investigate this topic. In this review, we wanted to collect many of the most significant findings obtained by the the scientific community using zebrafish to study GCs and their receptors. The paper begins by describing the experiments with transient knockdown of zebrafish gr to gain insights, mainly during development, and continues with the discoveries provided by the generation of transgenic reporter lines. Finally, we discuss how the generation of mutant lines for either gr or the enzymes involved in GC synthesis has significantly advanced our knowledge on GC biology.

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Patrycja Kurowska, Ewa Mlyczyńska, Monika Dawid, Małgorzata Grzesiak, Joelle Dupont, and Agnieszka Rak

Vaspin, visceral adipose tissue-derived serine protease inhibitor, plays important roles in inflammation, obesity, and glucose metabolism. Our recent research has shown the expression and role of vaspin in the function of ovarian follicles. However, whether vaspin regulates steroidogenesis and luteolysis in the corpus luteum (CL) is still unknown. The aim of this study was first to determine the expression of vaspin and its receptor GRP78 in porcine CL at the early, middle, and late stages of the luteal phase. Next, we investigated the hormonal regulation of vaspin levels in luteal cells in response to luteinizing hormone (LH), progesterone (P4), and prostaglandin PGE2 and PGF2α. Finally, we determined vaspin’s direct impact on luteal cells steroidogenesis, luteolysis and kinases phosphorylation. Our results are the first to show higher vaspin/GRP78 expression in middle and late vs early stages; immunohistochemistry showed cytoplasmic vaspin/GRP78 localization in small and large luteal cells. In vitro, we found that LH, P4, PGE2, and PGF2α significantly decreased vaspin levels. Furthermore, vaspin stimulated steroidogenesis by the activation of the GRP78 receptor and protein kinase A (PKA). Also, vaspin increased the ratio of luteotropic PGE2 to luteolytic PGF2α secretion via GRP78 and mitogen-activated kinase (MAP3/1). Moreover, vaspin, in a dose-dependent manner, decreased GRP78 expression, while it, in a time-dependent manner, increased kinases PKA and MAPK3/1 phosphorylation. Taken together, we found that vaspin/GRP78 expression depends on the luteal phase stage and vaspin affects luteal cells endocrinology, indicating that vaspin is a new regulator of luteal cells steroidogenesis and CL formation.

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Weihua Liu, Yuqiang Ji, Haiping Chu, Mo Wang, Bin Yang, and Chunyan Yin

This study investigated the effects of Wnt5a/caveolin/JNK signaling pathway and SFRP5 protein on ox-LDL-induced apoptosis of HUVEC cells. The difference of serological indexes between healthy average weight and obese children and the expression of Wnt 5a and SFRP5 was detected by clinical examination, and the correlation between serum SFRP5, Wnt 5a and the vascular endothelial injury was detected. HUVEC cells were induced by ox-LDL to construct an endothelial injury model, siRNA-transfected cells were used to construct downregulated SFRP5 and Wnt 5a expression groups, and recombination methods were used to construct upregulated Wnt5a and SFRP5 expression groups. The expression of Wnt 5a, caveolin-1, JNK and apoptosis-related proteins under different treatments were detected by the Western blot method, and apoptosis was detected by flow cytometry. Serological results showed that the level of Sfrp5 in obese children was significantly lower than that in healthy children, and the level of Wnt5a was significantly higher than that in healthy children. Moreover, Ln Sfrp5 was significantly negatively correlated with Ang-2 in blood circulation, ICAM-1 and E-selectin selectin, but not with VCAM-1. When Wnt5a was upregulated, the expression of caveolin-1 and JNK increased significantly, Bcl-2 decreased significantly, and the apoptotic rate increased significantly. Nevertheless, when Sfrp5 expression was upregulated, the result was the opposite. SFRP5 and Wnt5a are involved in the vascular endothelial injury. Wnt5a can promote apoptosis of HUVEC cells through Wnt5a/JNK/Caveolin-1 pathway, while SFRP5 can inhibit apoptosis by interfering with this pathway.

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Russell T Turner, Adam J Branscum, Carmen P Wong, Urszula T Iwaniec, and Emily Morey-Holton

The gravitostat is purported to function as a leptin-independent, osteocyte-dependent mechanism for regulation of energy balance. If correct, reduced activation of gravitostat signaling caused by prolonged sitting may contribute to obesity. The gravitostat concept is supported by reduced body mass in rodents following surgical implantation of weighted capsules. However, the procedure induces a confounding injury response. We, therefore, sought to confirm a gravitostat by decreasing (microgravity and simulated microgravity) or increasing (simulated gravity) weight using less invasive models (spaceflight, hindlimb unloading and centrifugation). We also evaluated changes in weight following non-surgical injury (radiation). Male rats (Wistar, Sprague–Dawley and Fischer 344) ranging in age from 5–12 weeks at launch and flown for 4–19 days in low Earth orbit exhibited slightly lower (4-day flight) or no difference (all other studies) in weight compared to ground controls. Rats subjected to inflight (1.0 G) or ground (1.04 G and 1.56 G) centrifugation during a 19-day mission did not differ in weight. In female rats (Fischer 344), spaceflight (14 days) did not alter ovariectomy-induced weight gain. Finally, hindlimb unloading resulted in weight loss in lean and obese mice. The aforementioned findings are inconsistent with outcomes predicted by a gravitostat namely increased mass during weightlessness and decreased mass when subjected to >1 G simulated gravity. Injury (dose-associated graded increases in radiation) mimicked the leptin-independent weight changes attributed to a gravitostat. Taken together, these findings do not support gravitostat regulation of energy balance and suggest injury/stress as an alternative mechanism for weight loss induced by weighted capsules.

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James A Oakes, Lise Barnard, Karl-Heinz Storbeck, Vincent T Cunliffe, and Nils P Krone

The roles of androgens in male reproductive development and function in zebrafish are poorly understood. To investigate this topic, we employed CRISPR/Cas9 to generate cyp11c1 (11β-hydroxylase) mutant zebrafish lines. Our study confirms recently published findings from a different cyp11c1−/− mutant zebrafish line, and also reports novel aspects of the phenotype caused by loss of Cyp11c1 function. We report that Cyp11c1-deficient zebrafish display predominantly female secondary sex characteristics, but may possess either ovaries or testes. Moreover, we observed that cyp11c1−/− mutant male zebrafish are profoundly androgen- and cortisol-deficient. These results provide further evidence that androgens are dispensable for testis formation in zebrafish, as has been demonstrated previously in androgen-deficient and androgen-resistant zebrafish. Herein, we show that the testes of cyp11c1−/− mutant zebrafish exhibit a disorganised tubular structure; and for the first time demonstrate that the spermatic ducts, which connect the testes to the urogenital orifice, are severely hypoplastic in androgen-deficient zebrafish. Furthermore, we show that spermatogenesis and characteristic breeding behaviours are impaired in cyp11c1−/ mutant zebrafish. Expression of nanos2, a type A spermatogonia marker, was significantly increased in the testes of Cyp11c1-deficient zebrafish, whereas expression of markers for later stages of spermatogenesis was significantly decreased. These observations indicate that in zebrafish, production of type A spermatogonia is androgen-independent, but differentiation of type A spermatogonia is an androgen-dependent process. Overall, our results demonstrate that whilst androgens are not required for testis formation, they play important roles in determining secondary sexual characteristics, proper organisation of seminiferous tubules, and differentiation of male germ cells.

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Morag J Young, Colin D Clyne, and Karen E Chapman

Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is caused by a new strain of coronavirus, the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 or SARS-CoV-2. At the time of writing, SARS-CoV-2 has infected over 5 million people worldwide. A key step in understanding the pathobiology of the SARS-CoV-2 was the identification of -converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) as the receptor for SARS-CoV-2 to gain entry into host cells. ACE2 is an established component of the ‘protective arm’ of the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone-system (RAAS) that opposes ACE/angiotensin II (ANG II) pressor and tissue remodelling actions. Identification of ACE2 as the entry point for SARS-CoV-2 into cells quickly focused attention on the use of ACE inhibitors (ACEi), angiotensin receptor blockers (ARB) and mineralocorticoid receptor antagonists (MRA) in patients with hypertension and cardiovascular disease given that these pharmacological agents upregulate ACE2 expression in target cells. ACE2 is cleaved from the cells by metalloproteases ADAM10 and ADAM17. Steroid hormone receptors regulate multiple components of the RAAS and may contribute to the observed variation in the incidence of severe COVID-19 between men and women, and in patients with pre-existing endocrine-related disease. Moreover, glucocorticoids play a critical role in the acute and chronic management of inflammatory disease, independent of any effect on RAAS activity. Dexamethasone, a synthetic glucocorticoid, has emerged as a life-saving treatment in severe COVID-19. This review will examine the endocrine mechanisms that control ACE2 and discusses the impact of therapies targeting the RAAS, glucocorticoid and other endocrine systems for their relevance to the impact of SARS-CoV-2 infection and the treatment and recovery from COVID-19-related critical illness.

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Isabelle Lee, Guannan Zhang, Clementina Mesaros, and Trevor M Penning

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are environmental pollutants generated from the incomplete combustion of organic material. PAHs have been studied as genotoxicants, but some also act via non-genotoxic mechanisms in estrogen-dependent malignancies, such as breast cancer. PAHs require metabolic activation to electrophilic metabolites to exert their genotoxicity but non-genotoxic properties may also contribute to their carcinogenicity. The role of PAHs in endometrial cancer, a cancer associated with unopposed estrogen action is unknown. We assessed the metabolism of the representative PAH, benzo[a]pyrene (B[a]P), to estrogenic compounds in Ishikawa human endometrial cells in the presence and absence of cytochrome P450 induction. Using stable-isotope dilution high-performance liquid chromatography and APCI tandem mass spectrometry in the selected reaction monitoring mode, we analyzed B[a]P metabolism in Ishikawa cells. Estrogenic activity of B[a]P metabolites was determined by the endogenous estrogen inducible alkaline phosphatase reporter gene and an exogenous estrogen response element (ERE) luciferase reporter gene construct. We also assessed whether PAHs can induce a proliferative phenotype via estrogen receptor (ER)- and non-ER-regulated pathways. We demonstrate that B[a]P can be metabolized in human endometrial cells into 3-OH-B[a]P and B[a]P-7,8-dione in sufficient amounts to activate ERs. We also show that only B[a]P-7,8-dione induces endometrial cell proliferation at concentrations lower than required to activate the ER; instead non-genomic signaling by the EGF receptor (EGFR) and activation of the mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) pathway was responsible. This work indicates that human endometrial cells can metabolize PAHs into estrogenic metabolites, which may induce cell proliferation through non-ER-regulated pathways.

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Anjara Rabearivony, Huan Li, Shiyao Zhang, Siyu Chen, Xiaofei An, and Chang Liu

Environmental temperature remarkably impacts on metabolic homeostasis, raising a serious concern about the optimum housing temperature for translational studies. Recent studies suggested that mice should be housed slightly below their thermoneutral temperature (26°C). On the other hand, the external temperature, also known as a zeitgeber, can reset the circadian rhythm. However, whether housing temperature affects the circadian oscillators of the liver remains unknown. Therefore, we have compared the effect of two housing temperatures, namely 21°C (conventional; TC) and 26°C (thermoneutral; TN), on the circadian rhythms in mice. We found that the rhythmicity of food intake showed an advanced phase at TC, while the activity was more robust at TN, with a prolonged period onset. The serum levels of norepinephrine were remarkably induced at TC, but failed to oscillate rhythmically at both temperatures. Likewise, circulating glucose levels were increased but were non-rhythmic under TC. Both total cholesterol and triglycerides levels were induced at TN, but showed an advanced phase under TC. Additionally, the expression of hepatic metabolic genes and clock genes remained rhythmic at both temperatures, with the exception of G6Pase, Fasn, Cpt1a and Cry2, at TN. Nevertheless, the liver histology examination did not show any significant changes in response to housing temperature. Although the non-consistent trends of phase changes in each temperature, our results suggest a non-reductant role of temperature in mouse internal rhythmicity resetting. Thus, the temperature-controlled internal circadian synchronization within organs should be taken into consideration when optimizing housing temperature for mice.

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Yuriko Sakai, Hideyuki Arie, Yinhua Ni, Fen Zhuge, Liang Xu, Guanliang Chen, Naoto Nagata, Takuya Suzuki, Shuichi Kaneko, Tsuguhito Ota, and Mayumi Nagashimada

Intestinal mucosal barrier dysfunction is closely related to the pathogenesis of nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). Gut immunity has been recently demonstrated to regulate gut barrier function. The Lactobacillus pentosus strain S-PT84 activates helper T cells and natural killer/natural killer T cells. In this study, we examined the effect of S-PT84 on NASH progression induced by high-cholesterol/high-fat diet (CL), focusing on the immune responses involved in gut barrier function. C57BL/6 mice were fed a normal chow or CL diet with or without 1 × 1010 S-PT84 for 22 weeks. S-PT84 administration improved hepatic steatosis by decreasing triglyceride and free fatty acid levels by 34% and 37%, respectively. Furthermore, S-PT84 inhibited the development of hepatic inflammation and fibrosis, suppressed F4/80+ macrophage/Kupffer cell infiltration, and reduced liver hydroxyproline content. Administration of S-PT84 alleviated hyperinsulinemia and enhanced hepatic insulin signalling. Compared with mice fed CL diet, mice fed CL+S-PT84 had 71% more CD11c-CD206+ M2 macrophages, resulting in a significantly decreased M1/M2 macrophage ratio in the liver. Moreover, S-PT84 inhibited the CL diet-mediated increase in intestinal permeability. Additionally, S-PT84 reduced the recruitment of interleukin-17-producing T cells and increased the levels of intestinal tight junction proteins, including zonula occludens-1, occludin, claudin-3, and claudin-7. In conclusion, our findings suggest that S-PT84 attenuates diet-induced insulin resistance and subsequent NASH development by maintaining gut permeability. Thus, S-PT84 represents a feasible approach to prevent the development of NASH.