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Yuehui Zhang, Min Hu, Wenyan Jia, Guoqi Liu, Jiao Zhang, Bing Wang, Juan Li, Peng Cui, Xin Li, Susanne Lager, Amanda Nancy Sferruzzi-Perri, Yanhua Han, Songjiang Liu, Xiaoke Wu, Mats Brännström, Linus R Shao, and Håkan Billig

Women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) have hyperandrogenism and insulin resistance and a high risk of miscarriage during pregnancy. Similarly, in rats, maternal exposure to 5α-dihydrotestosterone (DHT) and insulin from gestational day 7.5 to 13.5 leads to hyperandrogenism and insulin resistance and subsequently increased fetal loss. A variety of hormonal and metabolic stimuli are able to trigger different types of regulated cell death under physiological and pathological conditions. These include ferroptosis, apoptosis and necroptosis. We hypothesized that, in rats, maternal hyperandrogenism and insulin-resistance-induced fetal loss is mediated, at least in part, by changes in the ferroptosis, apoptosis and necroptosis pathways in the gravid uterus and placenta. Compared with controls, we found that co-exposure to DHT and insulin led to decreased levels of glutathione peroxidase 4 (GPX4) and glutathione, increased glutathione + glutathione disulfide and malondialdehyde, aberrant expression of ferroptosis-associated genes (Acsl4, Tfrc, Slc7a11, and Gclc), increased iron deposition and activated ERK/p38/JNK phosphorylation in the gravid uterus. In addition, we observed shrunken mitochondria with electron-dense cristae, which are key features of ferroptosis-related mitochondrial morphology, as well as increased expression of Dpp4, a mitochondria-encoded gene responsible for ferroptosis induction in the uteri of rats co-exposed to DHT and insulin. However, in the placenta, DHT and insulin exposure only partially altered the expression of ferroptosis-related markers (e.g. region-dependent GPX4, glutathione + glutathione disulfide, malondialdehyde, Gls2 and Slc7a11 mRNAs, and phosphorylated p38 levels). Moreover, we found decreased expression of Dpp4 mRNA and increased expression of Cisd1 mRNA in placentas of rats co-exposed to DHT and insulin. Further, DHT + insulin-exposed pregnant rats exhibited decreased apoptosis in the uterus and increased necroptosis in the placenta. Our findings suggest that maternal hyperandrogenism and insulin resistance causes the activation of ferroptosis in the gravid uterus and placenta, although this is mediated via different mechanisms operating at the molecular and cellular levels. Our data also suggest that apoptosis and necroptosis may play a role in coordinating or compensating for hyperandrogenism and insulin-resistance-induced ferroptosis when the gravid uterus and placenta are dysfunctional.