Study question: How does seminal plasma (SP) affect the transcriptome of human primary endometrial epithelial cells (eEC) and stromal fibroblasts (eSF)?
Summary answer: Exposure of eEC and eSF to SP in vitro increases expression of genes and secreted proteins associated with cellular migration, proliferation, viability and inhibition of cell death.
What is known already: Studies in both humans and animals suggest that SP can access and induce physiological changes in the upper female reproductive tract (FRT), which may participate in promoting reproductive success.
Study design, size, duration: This is a cross sectional study involving control samples versus treatment. SP (pooled from twenty donors) was first tested for dose- and time-dependent cytotoxic effects on eEC and eSF (n = 4). As exposure of eEC or eSF to 1% SP for 6 h proved to be non-toxic, a second set of eEC/eSF samples (n = 4) was treated under these conditions for transcriptome, protein and functional analysis. With a third set of samples (n = 3), we further compared the transcriptional response of the cells to SP versus fresh semen.
Participants/materials, setting, methods: eEC and eSF were isolated from endometrial biopsies from women of reproductive age undergoing benign gynecologic procedures and maintained in vitro. RNA was isolated and processed for microarray studies to analyze global transcriptomic changes. Secreted factors in conditioned media from SP-treated cells were analyzed by Luminex and for the ability to stimulate migration of CD14+ monocytes and CD4+ T cells.
Main results and the role of chance: Pathway identifications were determined using the Z-scoring system in Ingenuity Pathways Analysis (Z scores ≥|1.5|). SP induced transcriptomic changes (P < 0.05) associated with promoting leukocyte and endothelial cell recruitment, and proliferation of eEC and eSF. Cell viability pathways were induced, while those associated with cell death were suppressed (P < 0.05). SP and fresh semen induced similar sets of pathways, suggesting that SP can model the signaling effects of semen in the endometrium. SP also induced secretion of pro-inflammatory and pro-chemotactic cytokines, as well as pro-angiogenic and proliferative growth factors (P < 0.05) in both eEC and eSF. Finally, functional assays revealed that conditioned media from SP-treated eEC and eSF significantly increased (P < 0.05) chemotaxis of CD14+ monocytes and CD4+ T cells.
Limitations, reasons for caution: This study is limited to in vitro analyses of the effects of SP on endometrial cells. In addition, the measured response to SP was conducted in the absence of the ovarian hormones estradiol and progesterone, as well as epithelial-stromal paracrine signaling. While this study focused on establishing the baseline cellular response of endometrial cells to SP, future work should assess how hormone signaling in the presence of appropriate paracrine interactions affects SP-induced genes in these cells.
Wider implications of the findings: The results of this study support previous findings that SP and semen contain bioactive factors capable of eliciting chemotactic responses in the uterus, which can lead to recruitment of leukocytes to the endometrium. Future directions will explore if similar changes in gene expression do indeed occur after coitus in vivo, and how the signaling cascades initiated by SP in the endometrium can affect reproductive success, female reproductive health and susceptibility to sexually transmitted diseases. The gene list provided by the transcriptome analysis reported here should prove a valuable resource for understanding the response of the upper FRT to SP exposure.
Study funding/competing interest(s): This project was supported by NIH AI083050-04 (W.C.G./L.C.G.); NIH U54HD 055764 (L.C.G.); NIH 1F32HD074423-02 (J.C.C.); DOD W81XWH-11-1-0562 (W.C.G.); NIH 5K12-DK083021-04, NIH 1K99AI104262-01A1, The UCSF Hellman Award (N.R.R.). The authors have nothing to disclose.
Keywords: chemotaxis; endometrium; microarray; reproduction; semen.