Embryo implantation involves the intimate interaction between an implantation-competent blastocyst and a receptive uterus, which occurs in a limited time period known as the window of implantation. Emerging evidence shows that defects originating during embryo implantation induce ripple effects with adverse consequences on later gestation events, highlighting the significance of this event for pregnancy success. Although a multitude of cellular events and molecular pathways involved in embryo–uterine crosstalk during implantation have been identified through gene expression studies and genetically engineered mouse models, a comprehensive understanding of the nature of embryo implantation is still missing. This review focuses on recent progress with particular attention to physiological and molecular determinants of blastocyst activation, uterine receptivity, blastocyst attachment and uterine decidualization. A better understanding of underlying mechanisms governing embryo implantation should generate new strategies to rectify implantation failure and improve pregnancy rates in women.
Extracellular vesicles (EVs) are membrane-bound vesicles, found in biofluids, that carry and transfer regulatory molecules, such as microRNAs (miRNAs) and proteins, and may mediate intercellular communication between cells and tissues. EVs have been isolated from a wide variety of biofluids, including plasma, urine, and, relevant to this review, seminal, follicular and uterine luminal fluid. We conducted a systematic search of the literature to review and present the currently available evidence on the possible roles of EVs in follicular growth, resumption of oocyte development and maturation (meiosis), sperm maturation, fertilization and embryo implantation. MEDLINE, Embase and Web of Science databases were searched using keywords pertaining to EVs, including 'extracellular vesicles', 'microvesicles', 'microparticles' and 'exosomes', combined with a range of terms associated with the period of development between fertilization and implantation, including 'oocyte', 'sperm', 'semen', 'fertilization', 'implantation', 'embryo', 'follicular fluid', 'epididymal fluid' and 'seminal fluid'. Relevant research articles published in English (both animal and human studies) were reviewed with no restrictions on publication date (i.e. from earliest database dates to July 2015). References from these articles were used to obtain additional articles. A total of 1556 records were retrieved from the three databases. After removing duplicates and irrelevant titles, we reviewed the abstracts of 201 articles, which included 92 relevant articles. Both animal and human studies unequivocally identified various types of EVs in seminal, follicular and ULFs. Several studies provided evidence for the roles of EVs in these biofluids. In men, EVs in seminal fluid were linked with post-testicular sperm maturation, including sperm motility acquisition and reduction of oxidative stress. In women, EVs in follicular fluid were shown to contain miRNAs with potential roles in follicular growth, resumption of oocyte meiosis, steroidogenesis and prevention of polyspermy after fertilization. EVs were also detected in the media of cultured embryos, suggesting that EVs released from embryos and the uterus may mediate embryo-endometrium cross-talk during implantation. It is important to note that many of the biologically plausible functions of EVs in reproduction discussed in the current literature have not yet been substantiated by conclusive experimental evidence. A detailed understanding of the contributions of EVs in the series of events from gametogenesis to fertilization and then on to implantation, in both normal and pathological cases, may enable the development of valuable tools to advance reproductive health. Because of the early stage of the field, it is unsurprising that the current literature includes not only growing experimental evidence, but also as-yet unproven hypotheses pertaining to the roles of EVs in key reproductive processes. In this review, we present a comprehensive survey of the rapidly expanding literature on this subject, highlighting both relevant findings and gaps in knowledge.
Macrophages are prominent in the uterus and ovary at conception. Here we utilize the Cd11b-Dtr mouse model of acute macrophage depletion to define the essential role of macrophages in early pregnancy. Macrophage depletion after conception caused embryo implantation arrest associated with diminished plasma progesterone and poor uterine receptivity. Implantation failure was alleviated by administration of bone marrow-derived CD11b(+)F4/80(+) monocytes/macrophages. In the ovaries of macrophage-depleted mice, corpora lutea were profoundly abnormal, with elevated Ptgs2, Hif1a, and other inflammation and apoptosis genes and with diminished expression of steroidogenesis genes Star, Cyp11a1, and Hsd3b1. Infertility was rescued by exogenous progesterone, which confirmed that uterine refractoriness was fully attributable to the underlying luteal defect. In normally developing corpora lutea, macrophages were intimately juxtaposed with endothelial cells and expressed the proangiogenic marker TIE2. After macrophage depletion, substantial disruption of the luteal microvascular network occurred and was associated with altered ovarian expression of genes that encode vascular endothelial growth factors. These data indicate a critical role for macrophages in supporting the extensive vascular network required for corpus luteum integrity and production of progesterone essential for establishing pregnancy. Our findings raise the prospect that disruption of macrophage-endothelial cell interactions underpinning corpus luteum development contributes to infertility in women in whom luteal insufficiency is implicated.
The molecular changes that support implantation in eutherian mammals are necessary to establish pregnancy. In marsupials, pregnancy is relatively short, and although a placenta does form, it is present for only a few days before parturition. However, morphological changes in the uterus of marsupials at term mimic those that occur during implantation in humans and mice. We investigated themolecular similarity between term pregnancy in the marsupials and implantation in eutherian mammals using the gray short-tailed opossum (Monodelphis domestica) as a model. Transcriptomic analysis shows that term pregnancy in the opossum is characterized by an inflammatory response consistent with implantation in humans and mice. This immune response is temporally correlated with the loss of the eggshell, and we used immunohistochemistry to report that this reaction occurs at the materno-fetal interface. We demonstrate that key markers of implantation, including Heparin binding EGF-like growth factor and Mucin 1, exhibit expression and localization profiles consistent with the pattern observed during implantation in eutherian mammals. Finally, we show that there are transcriptome-wide similarities between the opossum attachment reaction and implantation in rabbits and humans. Our data suggest that the implantation reaction that occurs in eutherians is derived froman attachment reaction in the ancestral therianmammal which, in the opossum, leads directly to parturition. Finally, we argue that the ability to shift from an inflammatory attachment reaction to a noninflammatory period of pregnancy was a key innovation in eutherian mammals that allowed an extended period of intimate placentation.
The implantation process is complex, requiring reciprocal interactions between implantation-competent blastocysts and the receptive uterus. Because microRNAs (miRNAs) have major roles in regulating gene expression, we speculated that they participate in directing the highly regulated spatiotemporally expressed genetic network during implantation. Here, we show that two miRNAs, mmu-miR-101a and mmu-miR-199a*, are spatiotemporally expressed in the mouse uterus during implantation coincident with expression of cyclooxygenase-2, a gene critical for implantation. More interestingly, our in vitro gain- and loss-of-function experiments show that cyclooxygenase-2 expression is posttranscriptionally regulated by these two miRNAs. We report on miRNA-mediated regulation of uterine gene expression in the context of implantation. We believe that many other critical genes related to this process are also regulated by miRNAs. Thus, elucidating the physiological roles of uterine miRNAs will help us better understand the genetic control of implantation, the gateway to a successful pregnancy.
Implantation is a key stage during pregnancy, as the fate of the embryo is often decided upon its first contact with the maternal endometrium. Around this time, DCs accumulate in the uterus; however, their role in pregnancy and, more specifically, implantation, remains unknown. We investigated the function of uterine DCs (uDCs) during implantation using a transgenic mouse model that allows conditional ablation of uDCs in a spatially and temporally regulated manner. Depletion of uDCs resulted in a severe impairment of the implantation process, leading to embryo resorption. Depletion of uDCs also caused embryo resorption in syngeneic and T cell-deficient pregnancies, which argues against a failure to establish immunological tolerance during implantation. Moreover, even in the absence of embryos, experimentally induced deciduae failed to adequately form. Implantation failure was associated with impaired decidual proliferation and differentiation. Dynamic contrast-enhanced MRI revealed perturbed angiogenesis characterized by reduced vascular expansion and attenuated maturation. We suggest therefore that uDCs directly fine-tune decidual angiogenesis by providing two critical factors, sFlt1 and TGF-beta 1, that promote coordinated blood vessel maturation. Collectively, uDCs appear to govern uterine receptivity, independent of their predicted role in immunological tolerance, by regulating tissue remodeling and angiogenesis. Importantly, our results may aid in understanding the limited implantation success of embryos transferred following in vitro fertilization.
Trophoblasts, the specialized cells of the placenta, play a major role in implantation and formation of the maternal-fetal interface. Through an unusual differentiation process examined in this review, these fetal cells acquire properties of leukocytes and endothelial cells that enable many of their specialized functions. In recent years a great deal has been learned about the regulatory mechanisms, from transcriptional networks to oxygen tension, which control trophoblast differentiation. The challenge is to turn this information into clinically useful tests for monitoring placental function and, hence, pregnancy outcome.
► In this review we discuss mediators and effectors of progesterone signaling. ► We collate data and insights gained from many mouse models. ► We discuss progesterone regulation of proliferation and differentiation. ► We examine how progesterone regulates implantation and uterine decidualization. During the early stages of pregnancy, fertilized embryos must attach to the uterine epithelium, invade into the underlying uterine stroma, and the stroma must then differentiate in a process termed decidualization in order for a successful pregnancy to be initiated. The steroid hormone progesterone (P4) is an integral mediator of these early pregnancy events, exerting its effects via the progesterone receptor (PR). Insights gained from the use of mouse models and genomic profiling has identified many of the key molecules enlisted by PR to execute the paradigm of early pregnancy. This review describes several of the molecules through which the PR exerts its pleiotropic effects including ligands, receptors, chaperones, signaling proteins and transcription factors. Understanding these molecules and their concatenation is of vital importance to our ability to clinically treat reproductive health problems like infertility and endometriosis.
Abstract Uterine luminal epithelium (LE) is essential for establishing uterine receptivity. Previous microarray analysis revealed upregulation of Atp6v0d2 in gestation day 4.5 (D4.5) LE in mice. Realtime PCR showed upregulation of uterine Atp6v0d2 starting right before embryo attachment ∼D4.0. In situ hybridization demonstrated specific uterine localization of Atp6v0d2 in LE upon embryo implantation. Atp6v0d2 encodes one subunit for vacuolar-type H+-ATPase (V-ATPase), which regulates acidity of intracellular organelles and extracellular environment. LysoSensor Green DND-189 detected acidic signals in LE and glandular epithelium upon embryo implantation, correlating with Atp6v0d2 upregulation in early pregnant uterus. Atp6v0d2 −/− females had significantly reduced implantation rate and marginally reduced delivery rate from first mating only, but comparable number of implantation sites and litter size compared to control and comparable fertility to control from subsequent matings, suggesting a nonessential role of Atp6v0d2 subunit in embryo implantation. Successful implantation in both control and Atp6v0d2 −/− females was associated with uterine epithelial acidification. No significant compensatory upregulation of Atp6v0d1 mRNA was detected in D4.5 Atp6v0d2 −/− uteri. To determine the role of V-ATPase instead of a single subunit in embryo implantation, a specific V-ATPase inhibitor bafilomycin A1 (2.5 μg/kg) was injected via uterine fat pad on D3 18:00 h. This treatment resulted in reduced uterine epithelial acidification, delayed implantation, and reduced number of implantation sites. It also suppressed oil-induced artificial decidualization. These data demonstrate uterine epithelial acidification as a novel phenomenon during embryo implantation and V-ATPase is involved in uterine epithelial acidification and uterine preparation for embryo implantation. Our findings that mouse uterine epithelium becomes more acidic upon embryo implantation initiation and suppression of uterine epithelial acidification adversely affects embryo implantation provide a novel direction for understanding mechanisms in establishing uterine receptivity.
Cell adhesion in endometrial epithelium is regulated to maintain the continuity and protectiveness of the luminal covering cell layer while permitting interstitial implantation of the embryo during a restricted period of about 4 days. Many apparently normal embryos fail to implant, and epithelial‐embryo adhesion remains a poorly understood phenomenon. After menstruation, epithelial regeneration occurs by epiboly from the basal residues of glands, an activity that requires migration on extracellular matrix as well as cell–cell cohesion. Here we review current knowledge of adhesion molecules in the epithelium.