Mammalian embryos are surrounded by an acellular shell, the zona pellucida. Hatching out of the zona is crucial for implantation and continued development of the embryo. Clinically, problems in hatching can contribute to failure in assisted reproductive intervention. Although hatching is fundamentally a mechanical process, due to limitations in methodology most studies focus on its biochemical properties. To understand the role of mechanical forces in hatching, we developed a hydrogel deformation-based method and analytical approach for measuring pressure in cyst-like tissues. Using this approach, we found that, in cultured blastocysts, pressure increased linearly, with intermittent falls. Inhibition of Na/K-ATPase led to a dosage-dependent reduction in blastocyst cavity pressure, consistent with its requirement for cavity formation. Reducing blastocyst pressure reduced the probability of hatching, highlighting the importance of mechanical forces in hatching. These measurements allowed us to infer details of microphysiology such as osmolarity, ion and water transport kinetics across the trophectoderm, and zona stiffness, allowing us to model the embryo as a thin-shell pressure vessel. We applied this technique to test whether cryopreservation, a process commonly used in assisted reproductive technology (ART), leads to alteration of the embryo and found that thawed embryos generated significantly lower pressure than fresh embryos, a previously unknown effect of cryopreservation. We show that reduced pressure is linked to delayed hatching. Our approach can be used to optimize in vitro fertilization (IVF) using precise measurement of embryo microphysiology. It is also applicable to other biological systems involving cavity formation, providing an approach for measuring forces in diverse contexts.
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.
Estrogen and progesterone coupled with locally produced signaling molecules are essential for embryo implantation. However, the hierarchical landscape of the molecular pathways that governs this process remains largely unexplored. Here we show that the protein tyrosine phosphatase Shp2, a positive transducer of RTK signaling, is predominately localized in the nuclei in the periim-plantation mouse uterus. Uterine-specific deletion of Shp2 exhibits reduced progesterone receptor (PR) expression and progesterone resistance, which derails normal uterine receptivity, leading to complete implantation failure in mice. Notably, the PR expression defects are attributed to the limited estrogen receptor a (ER alpha) activation in uterine stroma. Further analysis reveals that nuclear Shp2, rather than cytosolic Shp2, promotes the ER alpha transcription activity. This function is achieved by enhancing the Src kinasemediated ER alpha tyrosine phosphorylation, which facilitates ER alpha binding to Pgr promoter in an ERK-independent manner in periimplantation uteri. Besides uncovering a regulatory mechanism, this study could be clinically relevant to dysfunctional ER alpha-caused endometrial disorders in women.
Embryo implantation remains a significant challenge for assisted reproductive technology, with implantation failure occurring in similar to 50% of in vitro fertilization attempts. Understanding the molecular mechanisms underlying uterine receptivity will enable the development of new interventions and biomarkers. TGF beta family signaling in the uterus is critical for establishing and maintaining pregnancy. Follistatin (FST) regulates TGF beta family signaling by selectively binding TGF beta family ligands and sequestering them. In humans, FST is up-regulated in the decidua during early pregnancy, and women with recurrent miscarriage have lower endometrial expression of FST during the luteal phase. Because global knockout of Fst is perinatal lethal in mice, we generated a conditional knockout (cKO) of Fst in the uterus using progesterone receptor-cre to study the roles of uterine Fst during pregnancy. Uterine Fst-cKO mice demonstrate severe fertility defects and deliver only 2% of the number of pups delivered by control females. In Fst-cKO mice, the uterine luminal epithelium does not respond properly to estrogen and progesterone signals and remains unreceptive to embryo attachment by continuing to proliferate and failing to differentiate. The uterine stroma of Fst-cKO mice also responds poorly to artificial decidualization, with lower levels of proliferation and differentiation. In the absence of uterine FST, activin B expression and signaling are up-regulated, and bone morphogenetic protein (BMP) signals are impaired. Our findings support a model in which repression of activin signaling by FST enables uterine receptivity by preserving critical BMP signaling.
Establishment of pregnancy is a critical event, and failure of embryo implantation and stromal decidualization in the uterus contribute to significant numbers of pregnancy losses in women. Glands of the uterus are essential for establishment of pregnancy inmice and likely in humans. Forkhead box a2 (FOXA2) is a transcription factor expressed specifically in the glands of the uterus and is a critical regulator of postnatal uterine gland differentiation in mice. In this study, we conditionally deleted FOXA2 in the adult mouse uterus using the lactotransferrin Cre (Ltf-Cre) model and in the neonatal mouse uterus using the progesterone receptor Cre (Pgr-Cre) model. The uteri of adult FOXA2-deleted mice were morphologically normal and contained glands, whereas the uteri of neonatal FOXA2-deleted mice were completely aglandular. Notably, adult FOXA2-deleted mice are completely infertile because of defects in blastocyst implantation and stromal cell decidualization. Leukemia inhibitory factor (LIF), a critical implantation factor of uterine gland origin, was not expressed during early pregnancy in adult FOXA2-deleted mice. Intriguingly, i.p. injections of LIF initiated blastocyst implantation in the uteri of both gland-containing and glandless adult FOXA2-deleted mice. Although pregnancy was rescued by LIF and was maintained to term in uterine gland-containing adult FOXA2-deleted mice, pregnancy failed by day 10 in neonatal FOXA2-deleted mice lacking uterine glands. These studies reveal a previously unrecognized role for FOXA2 in regulation of adult uterine function and fertility and provide original evidence that uterine glands and, by inference, their secretions play important roles in blastocyst implantation and stromal cell decidualization.
A major unresolved issue is how the uterus influences infertility and subfertility in cattle. Serial embryo transfer was previously used to classify heifers as high-fertile (HF), subfertile (SF), or infertile (IF). To assess pregnancy loss, two in vivo-produced embryos were transferred into HF, SF, and IF heifers on day 7, and pregnancy outcome was assessed on day 17. Pregnancy rate was substantially higher in HF (71%) and SF (90%) than IF (20%) heifers. Elongating conceptuses were about twofold longer in HF than SF heifers. Transcriptional profiling detected relatively few differences in the endometrium of nonpregnant HF, SF, and IF heifers. In contrast, there was a substantial difference in the transcriptome response of the endometrium to pregnancy between HF and SF heifers. Considerable deficiencies in pregnancy-dependent biological pathways associated with extracellular matrix structure and organization as well as cell adhesion were found in the endometrium of SF animals. Distinct gene expression differences were also observed in conceptuses from HF and SF animals, with many of the genes decreased in SF conceptuses known to be embryonic lethal in mice due to defects in embryo and/or placental development. Analyses of biological pathways, key players, and ligand-receptor interactions based on transcriptome data divulged substantial evidence for dysregulation of conceptus-endometrial interactions in SF animals. These results support the ideas that the uterus impacts conceptus survival and programs conceptus development, and ripple effects of dysregulated conceptus-endometrial interactions elicit loss of the postelongation conceptus in SF cattle during the implantation period of pregnancy.
Preeclampsia (PE) complicates similar to 5% of human pregnancies and is one of the leading causes of pregnancy-related maternal deaths. The only definitive treatment, induced delivery, invariably results in prematurity, and in severe early-onset cases may lead to fetal death. Many currently available antihypertensive drugs are teratogenic and therefore precluded from use. Nonteratogenic antihy-pertensives help control maternal blood pressure in PE, but results in preventing preterm delivery and correcting fetal growth restriction (FGR) that also occurs in PE have been disappointing. Here we show that dietary nicotinamide, a nonteratogenic amide of vitamin B-3, improves the maternal condition, prolongs pregnancies, and prevents FGR in two contrasting mouse models of PE. The first is caused by endotheliosis due to excess levels in the mothers of a soluble form of the receptor for vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), which binds to and inactivates VEGF. The second is caused by genetic absence of Ankiryn-repeat-and-SOCS-box-containing-protein 4, a factor that contributes to the differentiation of trophoblast stem cells into the giant trophoblast cells necessary for embryo implantation in mice; its absence leads to impaired placental development. In both models, fetal production of ATP is impaired and FGR is observed. We show here that nicotinamide decreases blood pressure and endotheliosis in the mothers, probably by inhibiting ADP ribosyl cyclase (ADPRC), and prevents FGR, probably by normalizing fetal ATP synthesis via the nucleotide salvage pathway. Because nicotinamide benefits both dams and pups, it merits evaluation for preventing or treating PE in humans.