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Kimberley D Katleba, Erin L Legacki, Alan J Conley, and Trish Berger

Development of the epididymis including blood–epididymal barrier formation is not required until sperm reach the epididymis peripuberally. Regulation of this development in the early postnatal period is largely unknown. The current objectives were to evaluate potential roles of endogenous estrogen and androgen signaling during early development of the corpus epididymidis and to determine the timing of formation of the blood–epididymal barrier in the pig. Effects of endogenous steroids were evaluated using littermates treated with vehicle, an aromatase inhibitor (letrozole) to reduce endogenous estrogens, an estrogen receptor antagonist (fulvestrant) or an androgen receptor antagonist (flutamide). Phosphorylated histone 3 immunohistochemistry was used to identify proliferating epithelial cells. Lanthanum nitrate and electron microscopy were used to analyze formation of the blood barrier in the corpus epididymidis. Reducing endogenous estrogens increased the number of proliferating corpus epithelial cells at 6 and 6.5 weeks of age compared with vehicle-treated boars (P<0.01 and P<0.001 respectively). Blocking androgen receptors did not alter proliferation rate at 6.5 weeks of age. Although barrier formation was similar between 6 and 6.5 weeks of age in vehicle-treated animals, intercellular barriers increased in letrozole-treated littermates at 6.5 weeks of age. Fulvestrant treatment, which should mimic aromatase inhibition for regulation through ESR1 and ESR2 signaling but potentially stimulate endogenous estrogen signaling through the G protein-coupled estrogen receptor (GPER), had the opposite effect on aromatase inhibition. These responses in conjunction with the presence of GPER in the corpus epididymidis suggest early corpus epididymal development is regulated partially by GPER.

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Paul R Shorten, Erin L Legacki, Pascale Chavatte-Palmer, and Alan J Conley

Hormone secretion by the maternal ovaries, trophoblast/placenta and fetus occurs sequentially, creating distinct steroid metabolomic ‘signatures’ in systemic blood of pregnant mares that vary with gestational stage. Algorithms were developed to predict the gestational day (GD) from the maternal steroid metabolome (nine steroids; pregnenolone (P5), progesterone (P4), 5α-dihydroprogesterone (DHP), 17α-hydroxyprogesterone, allopregnanolone, 20α-hydroxy-DHP, 3β,20α-dihydroxy-DHP, DHEA and androstenedione) determined by liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) of eight thoroughbred mares sampled longitudinally throughout pregnancy. A physiologically based model was developed to infer rates of steroid secretion during chorionic gonadotropin secretion, the luteo-placental shift and by the equine feto-placenta unit, demonstrating more variability in P5 and DHP than P4. The average of four empirical models, using nine steroids to predict GD, was calibrated (five mares, R2 = 0.94, RMSE = 20 days) and validated (three mares, R2 = 0.84, RMSE = 32 days). Validation performance was improved using paired samples taken 14 or 30 days apart (RMSE = 29 and 19 days, respectively). A second validation used an independent dataset (single serum samples from 56 mixed breed mares, RMSE = 79 days) and an additional longitudinal subset from the same population sampled monthly throughout gestation (seven mares, RMSE = 42 days). Again, using paired samples improved model performance (RMSE = 32.5 days). Despite less predictive performance of the mixed breed than the thoroughbred datasets, these models demonstrate the feasibility and potential for using maternal steroid metabolomic algorithms to estimate the stage of gestation in pregnant mares and perhaps monitor fetal development.

Free access

Alan Conley, Ned J Place, Erin L Legacki, Geoff L Hammond, Gerald R Cunha, Christine M Drea, Mary L Weldele, and Steve E Glickman

The spotted hyaena (Crocuta crocuta) is a unique species, even amongst the Hyaenidae. Extreme clitoral development in female spotted hyaenas challenges aspects of the accepted framework of sexual differentiation and reproductive function. They lack a vulva and instead urinate, copulate and give birth through a single, long urogenital canal that traverses a clitoris superficially resembling a penis. Recent and historical evidence is reviewed to describe our changing understanding of the biology of this species. Expanding upon observations from hyaenas in nature, much has been learned from studies utilising the captive colony at the University of California, Berkeley. The steroid environment of pregnancy is shaped by placental androgen and oestrogen secretion and a late gestational increase in sex hormone binding globulin, the regulated expression and steroid-binding characteristics of which are unique within the Hyaenidae. While initial external genital development is largely free of androgenic influence, the increase in testosterone concentrations in late gestation influences foetal development. Specifically, anti-androgen (AA) treatment of pregnant females reduced the developmental influence of androgens on their foetuses, resulting in reduced androstenedione concentrations in young females and easier birth through a ‘feminised’ clitoris, but precluded intromission and mating by ‘feminised’ male offspring, and altered social interactions. Insight into the costs and benefits of androgen exposure on spotted hyaena reproductive development, endocrinology and behaviour emphasises the delicate balance that sustains reproductive success, forces a re-evaluation of how we define masculine vs feminine sexual characteristics, and motivates reflection about the representative value of model species.