The humanin analogue (HNG) alleviates intrauterine adhesions by inhibiting endometrial epithelial cells ferroptosis: a rat model-based study

Hum Reprod. 2023 Dec 4;38(12):2422-2432. doi: 10.1093/humrep/dead196.


Study question: Does a humanin analogue (HNG) have a therapeutic effect on intrauterine adhesions (IUAs) caused by uterine cavity surgery in a rat model?

Summary answer: HNG supplementation attenuated the development of endometrial fibrosis and IUAs, improved fertility, and contributed to the regulation of endometrial fibrosis by inhibiting endometrial ferroptosis in rats with IUAs.

What is known already: IUAs, which are characterized by endometrial fibrosis, are a common cause of female infertility. Humanin (rattin in rats) is a mitochondrial-derived peptide that is widely expressed in multiple tissues. S14G-humanin (HNG) is an HNG that has been reported to have a protective effect against myocardial fibrosis.

Study design, size, duration: Endometrial tissues from three patients with IUAs and three controls were tested for humanin expression. Two animal models were used to evaluate the modelling effect of IUAs and the preventive effect of HNG against IUAs. In the first model, 40 rats were equally randomized to control and Day 7, 14, and 21 groups to establish the IUA model. In the second model, 66 rats were equally randomized to the control, IUA, and IUA + humanin analogue (HNG) groups. Erastin was used to induce ferroptosis in the Ishikawa cell line.

Participants/materials, setting, methods: The endometrium was scraped with a surgical spatula, combined with lipopolysaccharide treatment, to establish the rat model of IUAs. Rats were intraperitoneally injected with 5 mg/kg/day HNG for 21 consecutive days beginning from the day of operation to evaluate the therapeutic effect on IUAs. Haematoxylin-eosin and Masson's trichrome staining were used to assess endometrial morphology and evaluate fibrosis. Ferroptosis-related markers, namely nuclear factor E2-related factor 2 (Nrf2), acyl-CoA synthetase long-chain family member 4 (ACSL4), haeme oxygenase-1 (HO-1), solute carrier family 7 member 11 (SLC7A11), glutathione peroxidase 4 (GPX4), and ferritin, were measured by immunohistochemistry and western blotting to determine whether ferroptosis was involved in the development of IUAs and to assess the attenuative effect of HNG on ferroptosis. Additionally, the female rats were mated with male rats with normal fertility to assess fertility.

Main results and the role of chance: Humanin was widely expressed in endometrial cells, including epithelial and stromal cells, in both humans and rats. Humanin expression levels were downregulated in the endometria of patients and rats with IUAs relative to the endometria of controls. Endometrial thickness and the number of glands were significantly decreased on Day 7, 14, and 21 after endometrial scraping when compared with the controls (all P < 0.05), whereas the fibrotic area was significantly increased (P < 0.05). Among the tested ferroptosis markers, the expression levels of Nrf2, SLC7A11, and GPX4 were significantly downregulated and those of ACSL4, HO-1, and ferritin were significantly upregulated after endometrial scraping relative to their expression levels in controls (all P < 0.05). The mating rates in the control, IUA, and IUA + HNG groups were 100% (10/10), 40% (4/10), and 80% (8/10), respectively. The number of embryos in rats with IUAs (mean ± SD: 1.6 ± 2.1) was significantly less than the number in the controls (11.8 ± 1.5). HNG supplementation significantly attenuated this decrease in the number of implanted embryos (6.3 ± 4.5) (P < 0.01). Further results showed that HNG significantly attenuated the altered expression levels of proteins involved in ferroptosis in the endometria of rats with IUAs. Moreover, in vitro experiments showed that HNG significantly attenuated the erastin-induced decrease in the viability of the Ishikawa cell line and also attenuated the increase in reactive oxygen species production and the downregulation of GPX4.

Large scale data: None.

Limitations, reasons for caution: The findings of this study showed that HNG inhibited ferroptosis and reduced fibrosis in a rat model of IUAs. However, we could not establish a causal relationship between ferroptosis and the development of IUAs.

Wider implications of the findings: HNG may be effective at alleviating fibrosis during the development of IUAs, and the inhibition of ferroptosis is a promising new strategy for IUA therapy.

Study funding/competing interest(s): This study was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (No. 82171647); the '1000 Talent Plan' of Yunnan Province (No. RLQN20200001); and the Basic Research Project of the Yunnan Province-Outstanding Youth Foundation (No. 202101AW070018). The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Keywords: antifibrotic; ferroptosis; fertility; humanin; intrauterine adhesions.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Animals
  • China
  • Endometrium / metabolism
  • Epithelial Cells / metabolism
  • Female
  • Ferritins / metabolism
  • Ferroptosis*
  • Fibrosis
  • Humans
  • Male
  • NF-E2-Related Factor 2 / metabolism
  • Proteins / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Uterine Diseases* / metabolism


  • humanin
  • NF-E2-Related Factor 2
  • Ferritins
  • rattin protein, rat
  • Proteins