Characterization of an Ex Vivo Equine Endometrial Tissue Culture Model Using Next-Generation RNA-Sequencing Technology

Maithê R. Monteiro de Barros*, Mina C. G. Davies-Morel, Luis A. J. Mur, Christopher J. Creevey, Roger H. Alison, Deborah M. Nash

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Simple Summary
Notwithstanding extensive research into fertility problems in mares, pregnancy rates have remained low mainly because of endometrial inflammation (endometritis). In the field of equine research, endometrial explants have been used to carry out in vitro studies of the mare’s endometrium. However, there has been no wide-ranging assessment of relative stability of this model over time. The aim of this study was to perform an in-depth transcriptomic assessment of endometrial explants over a culture period of 72 h and assess if they are representative of the whole mare. Explants at 24 h demonstrated significant changes when compared to biopsies at 0 h as expected. Even though gene expression changes were seen between 24 and 48 h of culture, prior to this window changes were dominated by the effects of explanting and culture and subsequently, transcription was generally compromised. Our results, therefore have defined the optimal period when explants can be used to study equine endometritis and how the endometrium is modulated during inflammation. It highlights the use of abattoir derived samples to understand the physiology and pathophysiology of the equine endometrium, negating the need to collect repeated uterine biopsies from living mares.

Persistent mating-induced endometritis is a major cause of poor fertility rates in the mare. Endometritis can be investigated using an ex vivo equine endometrial explant system which measures uterine inflammation using prostaglandin F2α as a biomarker. However, this model has yet to undergo a wide-ranging assessment through transcriptomics. In this study, we assessed the transcriptomes of cultured endometrial explants and the optimal temporal window for their use. Endometrium harvested immediately post-mortem from native pony mares (n = 8) were sampled (0 h) and tissue explants were cultured for 24, 48 and 72 h. Tissues were stored in RNALater, total RNA was extracted and sequenced. Differentially expressed genes (DEGs) were defined using DESeq2 (R/Bioconductor). Principal component analysis indicated that the greatest changes in expression occurred in the first 24 h of culture when compared to autologous biopsies at 0 h. Fewer DEGs were seen between 24 and 48 h of culture suggesting the system was more stable than during the first 24 h. No genes were differentially expressed between 48 and 72 h but the low number of background gene expression suggested that explant viability was compromised after 48 h. ESR1, MMP9, PTGS2, PMAIP1, TNF, GADD45B and SELE genes were used as biomarkers of endometrial function, cell death and inflammation across tissue culture timepoints. STRING assessments of gene ontology suggested that DEGs between 24 and 48 h were linked to inflammation, immune system, cellular processes, environmental information processing and signal transduction, with an upregulation of most biomarker genes at 24 h. Taken together our observations indicated that 24–48 h is the optimal temporal window when the explant model can be used, as explants restore microcirculation, perform wound healing and tackle inflammation during this period. This key observation will facilitate the appropriate use of this as a model for further research into the equine endometrium and potentially the progression of mating-induced endometritis to persistent inflammation between 24 and 48 h.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1995
Number of pages14
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 03 Jul 2021


  • Endometritis
  • Endometrium
  • Equine
  • Explant
  • Gene expression
  • Reproduction
  • RNA-seq
  • Tissue culture
  • Transcriptome


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