Reporter and Curator: Dr. Sudipta Saha, Ph.D.
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are a group of small non-coding RNA molecules that play a major role in posttranscriptional regulation of gene expression and are expressed in an organ-specific manner. One miRNA can potentially regulate the expression of several genes, depending on cell type and differentiation stage. They control every cellular process and their altered regulation is involved in human diseases. miRNAs are differentially expressed in the male and female gonads and have an organ-specific reproductive function. Exerting their affect through germ cells and gonadal somatic cells, miRNAs regulate key proteins necessary for gonad development. The role of miRNAs in the testes is only starting to emerge though they have been shown to be required for adequate spermatogenesis. In the ovary, miRNAs play a fundamental role in follicles’ assembly, growth, differentiation, and ovulation.
Deciphering the underlying causes of idiopathic male infertility is one of the main challenges in reproductive medicine. This is especially relevant in infertile patients displaying normal seminal parameters and no urogenital or genetic abnormalities. In these cases, the search for additional sperm biomarkers is of high interest. This study was aimed to determine the implications of the sperm miRNA expression profiles in the reproductive capacity of normozoospermic infertile individuals. The expression levels of 736 miRNAs were evaluated in spermatozoa from normozoospermic infertile males and normozoospermic fertile males analyzed under the same conditions. 57 miRNAs were differentially expressed between populations; 20 of them was regulated by a host gene promoter that in three cases comprised genes involved in fertility. The predicted targets of the differentially expressed miRNAs unveiled a significant enrichment of biological processes related to embryonic morphogenesis and chromatin modification. Normozoospermic infertile individuals exhibit a specific sperm miRNA expression profile clearly differentiated from normozoospermic fertile individuals. This miRNA cargo has potential implications in the individuals’ reproductive competence.
Circulating or “extracellular” miRNAs detected in biological fluids, could be used as potential diagnostic and prognostic biomarkers of several disease, such as cancer, gynecological and pregnancy disorders. However, their contributions in female infertility and in vitro fertilization (IVF) remain unknown. Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a frequent endocrine disorder in women. PCOS is associated with altered features of androgen metabolism, increased insulin resistance and impaired fertility. Furthermore, PCOS, being a syndrome diagnosis, is heterogeneous and characterized by polycystic ovaries, chronic anovulation and evidence of hyperandrogenism, as well as being associated with chronic low-grade inflammation and an increased life time risk of type 2 diabetes. Altered miRNA levels have been associated with diabetes, insulin resistance, inflammation and various cancers. Studies have shown that circulating miRNAs are present in whole blood, serum, plasma and the follicular fluid of PCOS patients and that these might serve as potential biomarkers and a new approach for the diagnosis of PCOS. Presence of miRNA in mammalian follicular fluid has been demonstrated to be enclosed within microvesicles and exosomes or they can also be associated to protein complexes. The presence of microvesicles and exosomes carrying microRNAs in follicular fluid could represent an alternative mechanism of autocrine and paracrine communication inside the ovarian follicle. The investigation of the expression profiles of five circulating miRNAs (let-7b, miR-29a, miR-30a, miR-140 and miR-320a) in human follicular fluid from women with normal ovarian reserve and with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and their ability to predict IVF outcomes showed that these miRNAs could provide new helpful biomarkers to facilitate personalized medical care for oocyte quality in ART (Assisted Reproductive Treatment) and during IVF (In Vitro Fertilization).