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Zhihao Liu, Fengrui Wu, Baowei Jiao, Xiuyue Zhang, Chongjiang Hu, Baofeng Huang, Linyan Zhou, Xigui Huang, Zhijian Wang, Yaoguang Zhang, Yoshitaka Nagahama, Christopher H K Cheng and Deshou Wang

To address the roles of doublesex and mab-3-related transcription factor 1 (Dmrt1), forkhead transcription factor gene 2 (Foxl2), and aromatase in sex differentiation of Southern catfish, the cDNA sequences of these genes were isolated from the gonads. Dmrt1a and Dmrt1b were found to be expressed in the gonads, being higher in the testis. A low expression level of Dmrt1b was also detected in the intestine and kidney of the male. Foxl2 was found to be expressed extensively in the brain (B), pituitary (P), gill and gonads (G), with the highest level in the ovary, indicating the possible involvement of Foxl2 in the B–P–G axis. Cytochrome P450 (Cyp)19b was found to be expressed in the brain, spleen, and gonads, while Cyp19a was only expressed in the gonads and spleen. All-female Southern catfish fry were treated with fadrozole (F), tamoxifen (TAM), and 17β-estradiol (E2) respectively, from 5 to 25 days after hatching (dah). The expression levels of these genes were measured at 65 dah. In the F-, TAM-, and FTAM-treated groups, Dmrt1a and Dmrt1b were up-regulated in the gonad, whereas Foxl2 and Cyp19a were down-regulated, while the expression of Cyp19b in the gonad remained unchanged. Furthermore, down-regulation of Foxl2 and Cyp19b was also detected in the brain. In the E2-treated group, Dmrt1a and Dmrt1b were down-regulated to an undetectable level in the gonad, whereas Foxl2 and Cyp19b were up-regulated in the brain. Consistent with the observed changes in the expressions of these genes, 56, 70, and 80% sex-reversed male individuals were obtained in the F-, TAM-, and F + TAM-treated groups respectively. These results indicate the significant roles of Dmrt1, Foxl2, and Cyp19 in the sex differentiation of Southern catfish.

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Xigui Huang, Baowei Jiao, Chun Kit Fung, Yong Zhang, Walter K K Ho, Chi Bun Chan, Haoran Lin, Deshou Wang and Christopher H K Cheng

Two prolactin receptors (PRLRs) encoded by two different genes were identified in the fugu and zebrafish genomes but not in the genomes of other vertebrates. Subsequently, two cDNA sequences corresponding to two PRLRs were identified in black seabream and Nile tilapia. Phylogenetic analysis of PRLR sequences in various vertebrates indicated that the coexistence of two PRLRs in a single species is a unique phenomenon in teleosts. Both PRLRs in teleosts (the classical one named as PRLR1, the newly identified one as PRLR2) resemble the long-form mammalian PRLRs. However, despite their overall structural similarities, the two PRLR subtypes in fish share very low amino acid similarities (about 30%), mainly due to differences in the intracellular domain. In particular, the Box 2 region and some intracellular tyrosine residues are missing in PRLR2. Tissue distribution study by real-time PCR in black seabream (sb) revealed that both receptors (sbPRLR1 and sbPRLR2) are widely expressed in different tissues. In gill, the expression level of sbPRLR2 is much higher than that of sbPRLR1. In the intestine, the expression of sbPRLR1 is higher than that of sbPRLR2. The expression levels of both receptors are relatively low in most other tissues, with sbPRLR1 generally higher than sbPRLR2. The sbPRLR1 and sbPRLR2 were functionally expressed in cultured human embryonic kidney 293 cells. Both receptors can activate the β-casein and c-fos promoters; however, only sbPRLR1 but not sbPRLR2 can activate the Spi promoter upon receptor stimulation in a ligand-specific manner. These results indicate that both receptors share some common functions but are distinctly different from each other in mobilizing post-receptor events. When challenged with different steroid hormones, the two PRLRs exhibited very different gene expression patterns in the seabream kidney. The sbPRLR1 expression was up-regulated by estradiol and cortisol, whereas testosterone had no significant effect. For sbPRLR2, its expression was down-regulated by estradiol and testosterone, while cortisol exerted no significant effect. The 5′-flanking regions of the sbPRLR1 and sbPRLR2 genes were cloned and the promoter activities were studied in transfected GAKS cells in the absence or presence of different steroid hormones. The results of the promoter studies were in general agreement with the in vivo hormonal regulation of gene expression results. The sbPRLR1 gene promoter activity was activated by estradiol and cortisol, but not by testosterone. In contrast, the sbPRLR2 gene promoter activity was inhibited by estradiol, cortisol, and testosterone.

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Yong Zhang, Yun Liu, Xigui Huang, Xiaochun Liu, Baowei Jiao, Zining Meng, Pei Zhu, Shuisheng Li, Haoran Lin and Christopher H K Cheng

Two GPR39 transcripts, designated as sbGPR39-1a and sbGPR39-1b, were identified in black seabream (Acanthopagrus schlegeli). The deduced amino acid (aa) sequence of sbGPR39-1a contains 423 residues with seven putative transmembrane (TM) domains. On the other hand, sbGPR39-1b contains 284 aa residues with only five putative TM domains. Northern blot analysis confirmed the presence of two GPR39 transcripts in the seabream intestine, stomach, and liver. Apart from seabream, the presence of two GPR39 transcripts was also found to exist in a number of teleosts (zebrafish and pufferfish) and mammals (human and mouse). Analysis of the GPR39 gene structure in different species suggests that the two GPR39 transcripts are generated by alternative splicing. When the seabream receptors were expressed in cultured HEK293 cells, Zn2 + could trigger sbGPR39-1a signaling through the serum response element pathway, but no such functionality could be detected for the sbGPR39-1b receptor. The two receptors were found to be differentially expressed in seabream tissues. sbGPR39-1a is predominantly expressed in the gastrointestinal tract. On the other hand, sbGPR39-1b is widely expressed in most central and peripheral tissues except muscle and ovary. The expression of sbGPR39-1a in the intestine and the expression of sbGPR39-1b in the hypothalamus were decreased significantly during food deprivation in seabream. On the contrary, the expression of the GH secretagogue receptors (sbGHSR-1a and sbGHSR-1b) was significantly increased in the hypothalamus of the food-deprived seabream. The reciprocal regulatory patterns of expression of these two genes suggest that both of them are involved in controlling the physiological response of the organism during starvation.

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Min Hu, Yuehui Zhang, Jiaxing Feng, Xue Xu, Jiao Zhang, Wei Zhao, Xiaozhu Guo, Juan Li, Edvin Vestin, Peng Cui, Xin Li, Xiao-ke Wu, Mats Brännström, Linus R Shao and Håkan Billig

Impaired progesterone (P4) signaling is linked to endometrial dysfunction and infertility in women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Here, we report for the first time that elevated expression of progesterone receptor (PGR) isoforms A and B parallels increased estrogen receptor (ER) expression in PCOS-like rat uteri. The aberrant PGR-targeted gene expression in PCOS-like rats before and after implantation overlaps with dysregulated expression of Fkbp52 and Ncoa2, two genes that contribute to the development of uterine P4 resistance. In vivo and in vitro studies of the effects of metformin on the regulation of the uterine P4 signaling pathway under PCOS conditions showed that metformin directly inhibits the expression of PGR and ER along with the regulation of several genes that are targeted dependently or independently of PGR-mediated uterine implantation. Functionally, metformin treatment corrected the abnormal expression of cell-specific PGR and ER and some PGR-target genes in PCOS-like rats with implantation. Additionally, we documented how metformin contributes to the regulation of the PGR-associated MAPK/ERK/p38 signaling pathway in the PCOS-like rat uterus. Our data provide novel insights into how metformin therapy regulates uterine P4 signaling molecules under PCOS conditions.

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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.