Syncytin-A knockout mice demonstrate the critical role in placentation of a fusogenic, endogenous retrovirus-derived, envelope gene.
ABSTRACT: In most mammalian species, a key process of placenta development is the fusion of trophoblast cells into a highly specialized, multinucleated syncytiotrophoblast layer, through which most of the maternofetal exchanges take place. Little is known about this process, despite the recent identification of 2 pairs of envelope genes of retroviral origin, independently acquired by the human (syncytin-1 and syncytin-2) and mouse (syncytin-A and syncytin-B) genomes, specifically expressed in the placenta, and with in vitro cell-cell fusion activity. By generating knockout mice, we show here that homozygous syncytin-A null mouse embryos die in utero between 11.5 and 13.5 days of gestation. Refined cellular and subcellular analyses of the syncytin-A-deficient placentae disclose specific disruption of the architecture of the syncytiotrophoblast-containing labyrinth, with the trophoblast cells failing to fuse into an interhemal syncytial layer. Lack of syncytin-A-mediated trophoblast cell fusion is associated with cell overexpansion at the expense of fetal blood vessel spaces and with apoptosis, adding to the observed maternofetal interface structural defects to provoke decreased vascularization, inhibition of placental transport, and fetal growth retardation, ultimately resulting in death of the embryo. These results demonstrate that syncytin-A is essential for trophoblast cell differentiation and syncytiotrophoblast morphogenesis during placenta development, and they provide evidence that genes captured from ancestral retroviruses have been pivotal in the acquisition of new, important functions in mammalian evolution.
Project description:Recently, we and others have identified two human endogenous retroviruses that entered the primate lineage 25-40 million years ago and that encode highly fusogenic retroviral envelope proteins (syncytin-1 and -2), possibly involved in the formation of the placenta syncytiotrophoblast layer generated by trophoblast cell fusion at the materno-fetal interface. A systematic in silico search throughout mouse genome databases presently identifies two fully coding envelope genes, present as unique copies and unrelated to any known murine endogenous retrovirus, that we named syncytin-A and -B. Quantitative RT-PCR demonstrates placenta-specific expression for both genes, with increasing transcript levels in this organ from 9.5 to 14.5 days postcoitum. In situ hybridization of placenta cryosections further localizes these transcripts in the syncytiotrophoblast-containing labyrinthine zona. Consistently, we show that both genes can trigger cell-cell fusion in ex vivo transfection assays, with distinct cell type specificities suggesting different receptor usage. Genes orthologous to syncytin-A and -B and disclosing a striking conservation of their coding status are found in all Muridae tested (mouse, rat, gerbil, vole, and hamster), dating their entry into the rodent lineage approximately 20 million years ago. Together, these data strongly argue for a critical role of syncytin-A and -B in murine syncytiotrophoblast formation, thus unraveling a rather unique situation where two pairs of endogenous retroviruses, independently acquired by the primate and rodent lineages, would have been positively selected for a convergent physiological role.
Project description:Syncytin genes are envelope genes of retroviral origin that have been exapted for a role in placentation. They are involved in the formation of a syncytial structure (the syncytiotrophoblast) at the fetomaternal interface via their fusogenic activity. The mouse placenta is unique among placental mammals since the fetomaternal interface comprises two syncytiotrophoblast layers (ST-I and ST-II) instead of one, as observed in humans and all other hemochorial placentae. Each layer specifically expresses a distinct mouse syncytin, namely, syncytin-A (SynA) for ST-I and syncytin-B (SynB) for ST-II, which have been shown to be essential to placentogenesis and embryo survival. Their cognate cellular receptors, which are necessary to mediate cell-cell fusion and syncytiotrophoblast formation, are still unknown. By devising a sensitive method that combines a cell-cell fusion assay with the screening of a mouse cDNA library, we succeeded in identifying the glycosylphosphatidylinositol (GPI)-anchored membrane protein lymphocyte antigen 6E (Ly6e) as a candidate receptor for SynA. Transfection of cells with the cloned receptor led to their fusion to cells expressing SynA, with no cross-reactive fusion activity with SynB. Knocking down Ly6e greatly reduced SynA-induced cell fusion, thus suggesting that Ly6e is the sole receptor for SynA in vivo Interaction of SynA with Ly6e was further demonstrated by a competition assay using the soluble ectodomain of Ly6e. Finally, reverse transcription-quantitative PCR (RT-qPCR) analysis of Ly6e expression on a representative panel of mouse tissues shows that it is significantly expressed in the mouse placenta together with SynA.IMPORTANCE Syncytin genes are envelope genes of endogenous retroviruses, co-opted for a physiological function in placentation. Syncytins are fusogenic proteins that mediate cell-cell fusion by interacting with receptors present on the partner cells. Here, by devising a sensitive in vitro fusion assay that enables the high-throughput screening of normalized cDNA libraries, we identified the long-sought receptor for syncytin-A (SynA), a mouse syncytin responsible for syncytiotrophoblast formation at the maternofetal interface of the mouse placenta. This protein, Ly6e (lymphocyte antigen 6E), is a GPI-anchored membrane protein, and small interfering RNA (siRNA) experiments targeting its deletion as well as a decoy assay using a recombinant soluble receptor show that Ly6e is the necessary and sufficient partner of SynA. Its profile of expression is consistent with a role in both ancestral endogenization of a SynA founder retrovirus and present-day placenta formation. This study provides a powerful general method to identify genes involved in cell-cell fusion processes.
Project description:Fetal growth and survival is dependent on the elaboration and propinquity of the fetal and maternal circulations within the placenta. Central to this is the formation of the interhaemal membrane, a multi-cellular lamina facilitating exchange of oxygen, nutrients and metabolic waste products between the mother and fetus. In rodents, this cellular barrier contains two transporting layers of syncytiotrophoblast, which are multinucleated cells that form by cell-cell fusion. Previously, we reported the expression of the GPI-linked cell surface protein LY6E by the syncytial layer closest to the maternal sinusoids of the mouse placenta (syncytiotrophoblast layer I). LY6E has since been shown to be a putative receptor for the fusogenic protein responsible for fusion of syncytiotrophoblast layer I, Syncytin A. In this report, we demonstrate that LY6E is essential for the normal fusion of syncytiotrophoblast layer I, and for the proper morphogenesis of both fetal and maternal vasculatures within the placenta. Furthermore, specific inactivation of Ly6e in the epiblast, but not in placenta, is compatible with embryonic development, indicating the embryonic lethality reported for Ly6e-/- embryos is most likely placental in origin.
Project description:In most mammalian species, a critical step of placenta development is the fusion of trophoblast cells into a multinucleated syncytiotrophoblast layer fulfilling essential fetomaternal exchange functions. Key insights into this process came from the discovery of envelope genes of retroviral origin, the syncytins, independently acquired by the human (syncytin-1 and -2), mouse (syncytin-A and -B), and rabbit (syncytin-Ory1) genomes, with fusogenic properties and placenta-specific expression. We previously showed that mouse syncytin-A is essential for the formation of one of the two syncytiotrophoblast layers and for embryo survival. Here, we have generated syncytin-B KO mice and demonstrate that syncytin-B null placenta displays impaired formation of syncytiotrophoblast layer II (ST-II), with evidence of unfused apposed cells, and enlargement of maternal lacunae disrupting the placenta architecture. Unexpectedly, syncytin-B null embryos are viable, with only limited late-onset growth retardation and reduced neonate number. Microarray analyses identified up-regulation of the connexin 30 gene in mutant placentae, with the protein localized at the fetomaternal interface, suggesting gap junction-mediated compensatory mechanisms. Finally, double-KO mice demonstrate premature death of syncytin-A null embryos if syncytin-B is deleted, indicating cooperation between ST-I and ST-II. These findings establish that both endogenous retrovirus-derived syncytin genes contribute independently to the formation of the two syncytiotrophoblast layers during placenta formation, demonstrating a major role of retroviral gene capture, through convergent evolution, to generate multiple placental structures. Although some are absolutely required for completion of pregnancy, others are still amenable to "epigenetic" compensations, thus illustrating the complexity of the molecular machinery that developed during placental evolution.
Project description:Syncytin is a captive retroviral envelope protein, possibly involved in the formation of the placental syncytiotrophoblast layer generated by trophoblast cell fusion at the maternal-fetal interface. We found that syncytin and type I viral envelope proteins shared similar structural profiling, especially in the regions of N- and C-terminal heptad repeats (NHR and CHR). We expressed the predicted regions of NHR (41aa) and CHR (34aa) in syncytin as a native single chain (named 2-helix protein) to characterize it. 2-Helix protein exists as a trimer and is highly alpha-helix, thermo-stable, and denatured by low pH. NHR and CHR could form a protease-resistant complex. The complex structure built by the molecular docking demonstrated that NHR and CHR associated in an antiparallel manner. Overall, the 2-helix protein could form a thermo-stable coiled coil trimer. The fusion core structure of syncytin was first demonstrated in endogenous retrovirus. These results support the explanation how syncytin mediates cytotrophoblast cell fusion involved in placental morphogenesis.
Project description:In most mammalian species, a critical step of placental development is the fusion of trophoblast cell into a multinucleated syncytiotrophoblast layer, which separates the fetal and maternal blood circulations. Advancement in understanding this process came from the identification of two pairs of envelope genes of retroviral origin, independently acquired by the human (syncytin-1 and 2) and mouse (syncytin-A and B) genomes, specifically expressed in the placenta and with in vitro cell-cell fusion activity. We previously showed that syncytin-A is involved in the formation of one of the two syncytiotrophoblast layer of the mouse placenta -ST-I , facing the maternal lacuna- with syncytin-A null embryos dying at mid-gestation, and their placenta disclosing impaired formation of the ST-I layer. Here by generating syncytin-B KO mice, we demonstrated that syncytin-B null placenta have defects in formation of the syncytiotrophoblast layer-II facing the fetal blood vessels, with refined electron microscopy analyses showing evidence of unfused apposed cells. Lack of trophoblast fusion is associated with signs of trophoblast degeneration and with formation of huge maternal blood lacuna, ultimately disrupting the architecture of the labyrinth layer. These alterations did not result in complete abortion of syncytin-B null embryos, at variance with the syncytin-A KO phenotype, but in a reduced proportion of homozygous syncytin-B knockout individuals at birth, with evidence of late-onset embryonic growth retardation. Double knockout mice experiments demonstrate a premature death of syncytin-A null embryos if syncytin-B is deleted, thus strongly suggesting cooperative involvement of both syncytiotrophoblast layer-I and layer-II for the structural and functional integrity of the maternofetal interface and exchanges. Finally, a microarray analysis of wild-type and syncytin-B null placenta transcripts disclosed alterations in gene expression level for only a very limited number of genes, with the largest change (a 7-fold induction in the syncytin-B null placenta) observed for the connexin-30 gene. Immunohistochemistry further localized the connexin-30 protein in the labyrinth zone of mutant placenta, at the level of the fetomaternal interface. It is proposed that this might correspond to a compensatory process whereby disruption of syncytialization in syncytin-B knockout placenta is counteracted by an enhanced, gap junction mediated, cell-cell communication. These data demonstrate that syncytin-B is required for ST-II syncytial differentiation and the functional integrity of the labyrinth. Altogether, these findings definitively demonstrate that the two endogenous retroviral syncytin-A and -B Env genes contribute independently to the formation of the two syncytiotrophoblast layers during placenta formation, and provide additional insights into the subtle mechanisms of syncytiotrophoblast differentiation in the mouse. Experimental design: Placenta RNA of embryos homozygous for the syncytin-B deletion (SynB-/-) were compared to placental RNA of wild-type embryos (SynB+/+) of the same litter. Two stages of gestation, day 12 and d14, were analyzed. At day 12, 3 litters were obtained; for two of them, the RNAs were analyzed individually, and for the third one, placenta RNAs of the wild-type genotype were pooled. At day 14, one litter was obtained; RNA samples with the same genotype were pooled
Project description:Syncytins are envelope protein genes of retroviral origin that have been captured for a function in placentation. Two such genes have already been identified in simians, two distinct, unrelated genes have been identified in Muridae, and a fifth gene has been identified in the rabbit. Here, we searched for similar genes in the Laurasiatheria clade, which diverged from Euarchontoglires--primates, rodents, and lagomorphs--shortly after mammalian radiation (100 Mya). In silico search for envelope protein genes with full-coding capacity within the dog and cat genomes identified several candidate genes, with one common to both species that displayed placenta-specific expression, which was revealed by RT-PCR analysis of a large panel of tissues. This gene belongs to a degenerate endogenous retroviral element, with precise proviral integration at a site common to dog and cat. Cloning of the gene for an ex vivo pseudotype assay showed fusogenicity on both dog and cat cells. In situ hybridization on placenta sections from both species showed specific expression at the level of the invasive fetal villi within the placental junctional zone, where trophoblast cells fuse into a syncytiotrophoblast layer to form the maternofetal interface. Finally, we show that the gene is conserved among a series of 26 Carnivora representatives, with evidence for purifying selection and conservation of fusogenic activity. The gene is not found in the Pholidota order and, therefore, it was captured before Carnivora radiation, between 60 and 85 Mya. This gene is the oldest syncytin gene identified to date, and it is the first in a new major clade of eutherian mammals.
Project description:BACKGROUND: Syncytins are envelope genes of retroviral origin that have been co-opted by the host to mediate a specialized function in placentation. Two of these genes have already been identified in primates, as well as two distinct, non orthologous genes in rodents. RESULTS: Here we identified within the rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus-which belongs to the lagomorpha order- an envelope (env) gene of retroviral origin with the characteristic features of a bona fide syncytin, that we named syncytin-Ory1. An in silico search for full-length env genes with an uninterrupted open reading frame within the rabbit genome first identified two candidate genes that were tested for their specific expression in the placenta by quantitative RT-PCR of RNA isolated from a large set of tissues. This resulted in the identification of an env gene with placenta-specific expression and belonging to a family of endogenous retroelements present at a limited copy number in the rabbit genome. Functional characterization of the identified placenta-expressed env gene after cloning in a CMV-driven expression vector and transient transfection experiments, demonstrated both fusogenic activity in an ex vivo cell-cell fusion assay and infectivity of pseudotypes. The receptor for the rabbit syncytin-Ory1 was found to be the same as that for human syncytin-1, i.e. the previously identified ASCT2 transporter. This was demonstrated by a co-culture fusion assay between hamster A23 cells transduced with an expression vector for ASCT2 and A23 cells transduced with syncytin-Ory1. Finally, in situ hybridization of rabbit placenta sections with a syncytin-Ory1 probe revealed specific expression at the level of the junctional zone between the placental lobe and the maternal decidua, where the invading syncytial fetal tissue contacts the maternal decidua to form the labyrinth, consistent with a role in the formation of the syncytiotrophoblast. The syncytin-Ory1 gene is found in Leporidae but not in Ochotonidae, and should therefore have entered the lagomorpha order 12-30 million years ago. CONCLUSION: The identification of a novel syncytin gene within a third order of mammals displaying syncytiotrophoblast formation during placentation strongly supports the notion that on several occasions retroviral infections have resulted in the independent capture of genes that have been positively selected for a convergent physiological role.
Project description:Syncytin-2 is an envelope gene from the human endogenous retrovirus FRD (HERV-FRD) co-opted by an ancestral primate host, conserved in evolution over >40 Myr, specifically expressed in the placenta, and with a cell-cell fusogenic activity likely contributing to placenta morphogenesis. Here, using the GeneBridge4 human/Chinese hamster radiation hybrid panel, we mapped and identified the human receptor for syncytin-2. This receptor-namely Major Facilitator Superfamily Domain Containing 2 (MFSD2)-belongs to a large family of presumptive carbohydrate transporters with 10-12 membrane-spanning domains, is located at chromosomal position 1p34.2, and is conserved in evolution. An expression vector for MFSD2 confers fusogenicity to otherwise insusceptible cells upon transfection of syncytin-2. It also confers infectivity to syncytin-2 pseudotypes, consistent with this protein being the receptor for the ancestrally acquired HERV-FRD family of endogenous retroviruses. At variance with the human gene, neither mouse nor rat MFSD2 can mediate membrane fusion, which is consistent with the fact that the envelope-derived syncytin genes co-opted by rodents during evolution are not orthologous to the human syncytin genes. Remarkably, a real-time quantitative RT-PCR analysis of MFSD2 in various human tissues demonstrates specific expression in the placenta, as well as in the human BeWo choriocarcinoma cell line, which discloses enhancement of receptor expression upon induction by forskolin of cell-cell fusion and syncytium formation. In situ hybridization of human placental tissue using an MFSD2-specific probe further unambiguously demonstrates receptor expression at the level of the syncytiotrophoblast, again consistent with a role in placenta morphogenesis.
Project description:Terminal differentiation of villous cytotrophoblasts (CT) ends in formation of the multinucleated syncytiotrophoblast representing the fetal-maternal interface. Aberrations during this cell-fusion process are associated with Intrauterine Growth Restriction (IUGR), Preeclampsia (PE) and High Elevated Liver and Low Platelets (HELLP) Syndrome. Syncytin-1, the envelope gene of the human Endogenous Retrovirus ERVW-1, is one of the most important genes involved in cell-fusion and showed decreased gene expression during these pathological pregnancies. The aim of this study was to determine the methylation pattern of the entire promoter of ERVW-1 and to correlate these findings with the expression profile of Syncytin-1 in the placental syndromes. 14 isolated villous cytotrophoblasts from control (n?=?3), IUGR (n?=?3), PE (n?=?3), PE/IUGR (n?=?3) and HELLP/IUGR (n?=?2) placentae were used to determine the mean methylation level (ML) for the ERVW-1 promoter region. ML rose significantly from 29% in control CTs to 49% in IUGR, 53% in PE, 47% in PE/IUGR and 64% in HELLP/IUGR indicating an epigenetic down-regulation of Syncytin-1 by promoter hypermethylation. DNA demethylation of the trophoblast like cell lines BeWo, JEG-3 and JAR with 5-AZA-2'desoxycytidine (AZA) showed an increased Syncytin-1 expression and fusion ability in all cell lines. Promoter activity of the 5'LTR could be inhibited by hypermethylation 42-fold using a luciferase based reporter-gene assay. Finally overexpression of the methyltransferases DNMT3a and LSH could be responsible for a decreased Syncytin-1 expression by promoter hypermethylation of ERVW-1. Our study linked decreased Syncytin-1 expression to an epigenetic hypermethylation of the entire promoter of ERVW-1. Based on our findings we are predicting a broad aberrant epigenetic DNA-methylation pattern in pathological placentae affecting placentogenesis, but also the development of the fetus and the mother during pregnancy.