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Douglas A Gibson, Ioannis Simitsidellis, and Philippa T K Saunders

During the establishment of pregnancy, the ovarian-derived hormones progesterone and oestradiol regulate remodelling of the endometrium to promote an environment that is able to support and maintain a successful pregnancy. Decidualisation is characterised by differentiation of endometrial stromal cells that secrete growth factors and cytokines that regulate vascular remodelling and immune cell influx. This differentiation process is critical for reproduction, and inadequate decidualisation is implicated in the aetiology of pregnancy disorders such as foetal growth restriction and preeclampsia. In contrast to progesterone and oestradiol, the role of androgens in regulating endometrial function is poorly understood. Androgen receptors are expressed in the endometrium, and androgens are reported to regulate both the transcriptome and the secretome of endometrial stromal cells. In androgen-target tissues, circulating precursors are activated to mediate local effects, and recent studies report that steroid concentrations detected in endometrial tissue are distinct to those detected in the peripheral circulation. New evidence suggests that decidualisation results in dynamic changes in the expression of androgen biosynthetic enzymes, highlighting a role for pre-receptor regulation of androgen action during the establishment of pregnancy. These results suggest that such enzymes could be future therapeutic targets for the treatment of infertility associated with endometrial dysfunction. In conclusion, these data support the hypothesis that androgens play a beneficial role in regulating the establishment and maintenance of pregnancy. Future studies should be focussed on investigating the safety and efficacy of androgen supplementation with the potential for utilisation of novel therapeutics, such as selective androgen receptor modulators, to improve reproductive outcomes in women.

Restricted access

J Tucci, V Hammond, P V Senior, A Gibson, and F Beck


During pregnancy, a placental calcium pump maintains the fetus in a hypercalcaemic state relative to the mother, a condition which has been thought to facilitate normal development of the fetal skeleton. Based on experiments performed in the sheep, parathyroid hormone-related protein (PTHrP) has been implicated as the hormone responsible for maintaining the placental calcium pump. In the present study on mice in which the PTHrP gene has been ablated by homologous recombination, we have measured both fetal and maternal circulating total and ionised calcium levels, as well as fetal total body calcium, in order to determine whether absence of PTHrP during fetal development has an effect on fetal calcium levels. Our results show that, in fetuses lacking PTHrP, circulating ionised calcium levels are significantly lower than those of heterozygote and wild-type littermates, but circulating total calcium levels show no difference. Total body calcium levels of null mutants are significantly higher than those of normal littermates.

The role of PTHrP in maintaining the integrity of the transplacental calcium pump in the rodent thus remains unclear. It may be that the lower levels of fetal blood ionised calcium in mutant animals are due to disruption of the placental pump, but, if this is the case, compensatory mechanisms have operated to allow the excessive calcium deposition seen in the skeletons of these animals. Alternatively, the increased avidity of the bones for calcium may in itself have produced a lower equilibrium level of available ionised calcium.

Free access

Carla A Piccinato, Helena Malvezzi, Douglas A Gibson, and Philippa T K Saunders

Endometriosis is an incurable hormone-dependent inflammatory disease that causes chronic pelvic pain and infertility characterized by implantation and growth of endometrial tissue outside the uterine cavity. Symptoms have a major impact on the quality of life of patients resulting in socioeconomic, physical and psychological burdens. Although the immune system and environmental factors may play a role in the aetiology of endometriosis, oestrogen dependency is still considered a hallmark of the disorder. The impact of oestrogens such as oestrone and particularly, oestradiol, on the endometrium or endometriotic lesions may be mediated by steroids originating from ovarian steroidogenesis or local intra-tissue production (intracrinology) dependent upon the expression and activity of enzymes that regulate oestrogen biosynthesis and metabolism. Two key pathways have been implicated: while there is contradictory data on the participation of the aromatase enzyme (encoded by CYP19A1), there is increasing evidence that the steroid sulphatase pathway plays a role in both the aetiology and pathology of endometriosis. In this review, we consider the evidence related to the pathways leading to oestrogen accumulation in endometriotic lesions and how this might inform the development of new therapeutic strategies to treat endometriosis without causing the undesirable side effects of current regimes that suppress ovarian hormone production.

Open access

Douglas A Gibson, Paul A Foster, Ioannis Simitsidellis, Hilary O D Critchley, Olympia Kelepouri, Frances Collins, and Philippa T K Saunders

In women, establishment of pregnancy is dependent upon ‘fine-tuning’ of the endometrial microenvironment, which is mediated by terminal differentiation (decidualisation) of endometrial stromal fibroblasts (ESFs). We have demonstrated that intracrine steroid metabolism plays a key role in regulating decidualisation and is essential for time-dependent expression of key factors required for endometrial receptivity. The primary aim of the current study was to determine whether sulphated steroids can act as precursors to bioactive sex steroids during decidualisation. We used primary human ESF and a robust in vitro model of decidualisation to assess the expression of genes associated with sulphation, desulphation and transport of sulphated steroids in human ESF as well as the impact of the steroid sulphatase (STS) inhibitor STX64 (Irosustat). We found evidence for an increase in both expression and activity of STS in response to a decidualisation stimulus with abrogation of oestrone biosynthesis and decreased secretion of the decidualisation marker IGFBP1 in the presence of STX64. These results provide novel insight into the contribution of STS to the intracrine regulation of decidualisation.