This review summarises current knowledge about the specification, commitment and maintenance of the trophoblast lineage in mice and cattle. Results from gene expression studies, in vivo loss-of-function models and in vitro systems using trophoblast and embryonic stem cells have been assimilated into a model seeking to explain trophoblast ontogeny via gene regulatory networks. While trophoblast differentiation is quite distinct between cattle and mice, as would be expected from their different modes of implantation, recent studies have demonstrated that differences arise much earlier during trophoblast development. Reproduction (2012) 143 231-246
Trophoblast stem cells (TSC) are the precursors of the differentiated cells of the placenta. In the mouse, TSC can be derived from outgrowths of either blastocyst polar trophectoderm (TE) or extraembryonic ectoderm (ExE), which originates from polar TE after implantation. The mouse TSC niche appears to be located within the ExE adjacent to the epiblast, on which it depends for essential growth factors, but whether this cellular architecture is the same in other species remains to be determined. Mouse TSC self-renewal can be sustained by culture on mitotically inactivated feeder cells, which provide one or more factors related to the NODAL pathway, and a medium supplemented with FGF4, heparin, and fetal bovine serum. Repression of the gene network that maintains pluripotency and emergence of the transcription factor pathways that specify a trophoblast (TR) fate enables TSC derivation in vitro and placental formation in vivo. Disrupting the pluripotent network of embryonic stem cells (ESC) causes them to default to a TR ground state. Pluripotent cells that have acquired sublethal chromosomal alterations may be sequestered into TR for similar reasons. The transition from ESC to TSC, which appears to be unidirectional, reveals important aspects of initial fate decisions in mice. TSC have yet to be derived from domestic species in which remarkable TR growth precedes embryogenesis. Recent derivation of TSC from blastocysts of the rhesus monkey suggests that isolation of the human equivalents may be possible and will reveal the extent to which mechanisms uncovered by using animal models are true in our own species.
In pregnancy, trophoblast invasion and uterine spiral artery remodelling are important for lowering maternal vascular resistance and increasing uteroplacental blood flow. Impaired spiral artery remodelling has been implicated in pre-eclampsia, a major complication of pregnancy, for a long time but the underlying mechanisms remain unclear(1,2). Corin (also known as atrial natriuretic peptide-converting enzyme) is a cardiac protease that activates atrial natriuretic peptide (ANP), a cardiac hormone that is important in regulating blood pressure(3). Unexpectedly, corin expression was detected in the pregnant uterus(4). Here we identify a new function of corin and ANP in promoting trophoblast invasion and spiral artery remodelling. We show that pregnant corin-or ANP-deficient mice developed high blood pressure and proteinuria, characteristics of pre-eclampsia. In these mice, trophoblast invasion and uterine spiral artery remodelling were markedly impaired. Consistent with this, the ANP potently stimulated human trophoblasts in invading Matrigels. In patients with pre-eclampsia, uterine Corin messenger RNA and protein levels were significantly lower than that in normal pregnancies. Moreover, we have identified Corin gene mutations inpre-eclamptic patients, which decreased corin activity in processing pro-ANP. These results indicate that corin and ANP are essential for physiological changes at the maternal-fetal interface, suggesting that defects in corin and ANP function may contribute to pre-eclampsia.
Trophoblast adhesion to the uterine wall is the requisite first step of implantation and, subsequently, placentation. At the maternal-fetal interface, we investigated the expression of selectin adhesion systems that enable leukocyte capture from the bloodstream. On the maternal side, human uterine epithelial cells up-regulated selectin oligosaccharide-based ligands during the window of receptivity. On the fetal side, human trophoblasts expressed L-selectin. This ligand-receptor system was functional, because beads coated with the selectin ligand 6-sulfo sLe bound to trophoblasts, and trophoblasts bound to ligand-expressing uterine luminal epithelium in tissue sections. These results suggest that trophoblast L-selectin mediates interactions with the uterus and that this adhesion mechanism may be critical to establishing human pregnancy.
The trophoblast cell lineage is essential for the survival of the mammalian embryo in utero. This lineage is specified before implantation into the uterus and is restricted to form the fetal portion of the placenta. A culture of mouse blastocysts or early postimplantation trophoblasts in the presence of fibroblast growth factor 4 (FGF4) permitted the isolation of permanent trophoblast stem cell lines. These cell lines differentiated to other trophoblast subtypes in vitro in the absence of FGF4 and exclusively contributed to the trophoblast lineage in vivo in chimeras.
Abstract Recently, direct cell fate conversion attempts between the embryonic and extra-embryonic lineage gained new momentum. Two concomitant publications were published, describing the successful generation of transgene-independent, self-renewing trophoblast stem cells (TSCs) from murine fibroblasts. Cells were faithfully converted, displaying high similarity to blastocyst or extraembryonic ectoderm derived TSCs. Here, we summarize and compare published attempts aiming at the direct induction of trophoblast-fate from either mouse embryonic stem cells or fibroblasts.
The first cell fate choice of the preimplantation embryo generates the extraembryonic trophoblast and embryonic epiblast lineages. Embryonic stem cells (ESCs) and trophoblast stem cells (TSCs) can be utilized to investigate molecular mechanisms of this first cell fate decision. It has been established that ESCs can be induced to acquire trophoblast lineage characteristics upon manipulation of lineage-determining transcription factors. Here, we have interrogated the potential of microRNAs (miRNAs) to drive trans-differentiation of ESCs into the trophoblast lineage. Analysis of gene expression data identified a network of TSC-enriched miRNAs that were predicted to target mRNAs enriched in ESCs. Ectopic expression of these miRNAs in ESCs resulted in a stable trophoblast phenotype, supported by gene expression changes and in vivo contribution potential. This process is highly miRNA-specific and dependent on Hdac2 inhibition. Our experimental evidence suggests that these miRNAs promote a mural trophectoderm (TE)-like cell fate with physiological properties that differentiate them from the polar TE. Nosi et al. identify microRNAs sufficient to drive embryonic to extraembryonic lineage conversion by employing stem cell models. Trophoblast-enriched microRNAs downregulate pluripotency-associated genes in ESCs and drive the acquisition of a preimplantation mural trophectoderm phenotype. This work suggests the involvement of microRNAs in networks regulating preimplantation development.
Trophoblast stem cells (TSCs) arise from the first cell fate decision in the developing embryo and generate extra-embryonic lineages, giving rise to the fetal portion of the placenta. Mouse embryonic and extra-embryonic lineages are strictly separated by a distinct epigenetic barrier, which is not fully overcome following expression of TSC-determining factors in embryonic stem cells. Here, we show that transient expression of Tfap2c, Gata3, Eomes, and Ets2 is sufficient to reprogram mouse embryonic fibroblasts and post-natal tail-tip-derived fibroblasts into induced TSCs (iTSCs) and surmount the epigenetic barrier separating somatic from extra-embryonic lineages. iTSCs share nearly identical morphological characteristics, gene expression profiles, and DNA methylation patterns with blastocyst-derived TSCs. Furthermore, iTSCs display transgene-independent self-renewal, differentiate along extra-embryonic lineages, and chimerize host placentas following blastocyst injection. These findings provide insights into the transcription factor networks governing TSC identity and opportunities for studying the epigenetic barriers underlying embryonic and extra-embryonic lineage segregation. Kubaczka et al. report that transient expression of Tfap2c, Gata3, Eomes, and Ets2 can reprogram murine fibroblasts into induced trophoblast stem cells (iTSCs). iTSCs are fully functional and exhibit full demethylation of key loci, showing that the lineage barrier between somatic and extra-embryonic cell fates can be overcome.
Elf5 is a transcription factor with pivotal roles in the trophoblast compartment, where it reinforces a trophoblast stem cell (TSC)-specific transcriptional circuit. However, Elf5 is also present in differentiating trophoblast cells that have ceased to express other TSC genes such as Cdx2 and Eomes. In the present study, we aimed to elucidate the context-dependent role of Elf5 at the interface between TSC self-renewal and the onset of differentiation. We demonstrate that precise levels of Elf5 are critical for normal expansion of the TSC compartment and embryonic survival, as Elf5 overexpression triggers precocious trophoblast differentiation. Through integration of protein interactome, transcriptome, and genome-wide chromatin immunoprecipitation data, we reveal that this abundance-dependent function is mediated through a shift in preferred Elf5-binding partners; in TSCs, Elf5 interaction with Eomes recruits Tfap2c to triply occupied sites at TSC-specific genes, driving their expression. In contrast, the Elf5 and Tfap2c interaction becomes predominant as their protein levels increase. This triggers binding to double-and single-occupancy sites that harbor the cognate Tfap2c motif, causing activation of the associated differentiation-promoting genes. These data place Elf5 at the center of a stoichiometry-sensitive transcriptional network, where it acts as a molecular switch governing the balance between TSC proliferation and differentiation.