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.
Implantation involves an intricate discourse between the embryo and uterus and is a gateway to further embryonic development. Synchronizing embryonic development until the blastocyst stage with the uterine differentiation that takes place to produce the receptive state is crucial to successful implantation, and therefore to pregnancy outcome. Although implantation involves the interplay of numerous signalling molecules, the hierarchical instructions that coordinate the embryo - uterine dialogue are not well understood. This review highlights our knowledge about the molecular development of preimplantation and implantation and the future challenges of the field. A better understanding of periimplantation biology could alleviate female infertility and help to develop novel contraceptives.
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.
Every successful pregnancy requires proper embryo implantation. Low implantation rate is a major problem during infertility treatments using assisted reproductive technologies. Here we report a newly discovered molecular influence on implantation through the lysophosphatidic acid (LPA) receptor LPA3 (refs 2-4). Targeted deletion of LPA3 in mice resulted in significantly reduced litter size, which could be attributed to delayed implantation and altered embryo spacing. These two events led to delayed embryonic development, hypertrophic placentas shared by multiple embryos and embryonic death. An enzyme demonstrated to influence implantation, cyclooxygenase 2 (COX2) (ref. 5), was downregulated in LPA3-deficient uteri during pre-implantation. Downregulation of COX2 led to reduced levels of prostaglandins E2 and I2 (PGE2 and PGI2), which are critical for implantation. Exogenous administration of PGE2 or carbaprostacyclin (a stable analogue of PGI2) into LPA3-deficient female mice rescued delayed implantation but did not rescue defects in embryo spacing. These data identify LPA3 receptor-mediated signalling as having an influence on implantation, and further indicate linkage between LPA signalling and prostaglandin biosynthesis.
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.
Histone modifications have critical roles in regulating the expression of developmental genes during embryo development in mammals(1,2). However, genome-wide analyses of histone modifications in pre-implantation embryos have been impeded by the scarcity of the required materials. Here, by using a small-scale chromatin immunoprecipitation followed by sequencing (ChIP-seq) method(3), we map the genome-wide profiles of histone H3 lysine 4 trimethylation (H3K4me3) and histone H3 lysine 27 trimethylation (H3K27me3), which are associated with gene activation and repression4,5, respectively, in mouse pre-implantation embryos. We find that the re-establishment of H3K4me3, especially on promoter regions, occurs much more rapidly than that of H3K27me3 following fertilization, which is consistent with the major wave of zygotic genome activation at the two-cell stage. Furthermore, H3K4me3 and H3K27me3 possess distinct features of sequence preference and dynamics in preimplantation embryos. Although H3K4me3 modifications occur consistently at transcription start sites, the breadth of the H3K4me3 domain is a highly dynamic feature. Notably, the broad H3K4me3 domain (wider than 5 kb) is associated with higher transcription activity and cell identity not only in pre-implantation development but also in the process of deriving embryonic stem cells from the inner cell mass and trophoblast stem cells from the trophectoderm. Compared to embryonic stem cells, we found that the bivalency (that is, co-occurrence of H3K4me3 and H3K27me3) in early embryos is relatively infrequent and unstable. Taken together, our results provide a genome-wide map of H3K4me3 and H3K27me3 modifications in pre-implantation embryos, facilitating further exploration of the mechanism for epigenetic regulation in early embryos.
Embryo implantation remains a poorly understood process. We demonstrate here that activation of the epithelial Na+ channel (ENaC) in mouse endometrial epithelial cells by an embryo-released serine protease, trypsin, triggers Ca2+ influx that leads to prostaglandin E-2 (PGE(2)) release, phosphorylation of the transcription factor CREB and upregulation of cyclooxygenase 2, the enzyme required for prostaglandin production and implantation(1-3). We detected maximum ENaC activation, as indicated by ENaC cleavage(4), at the time of implantation in mice. Blocking or knocking down uterine ENaC in mice resulted in implantation failure. Furthermore, we found that uterine ENaC expression before in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment is markedly lower in women with implantation failure as compared to those with successful pregnancy. These results indicate a previously undefined role of ENaC in regulating the PGE(2) production and release required for embryo implantation, defects that may be a cause of miscarriage and low success rates in IVF.
T regulatory (Treg) cells are essential mediators of the maternal immune adaptation necessary for embryo implantation. In mice, insufficient Treg cell activity results in implantation failure, or constrains placental function and fetal growth. In women, Treg cell deficiency is linked with unexplained infertility, miscarriage, and pre‐eclampsia. To devise strategies to improve Treg cell function, it is essential to define the origin of the Treg cells in gestational tissues, and the regulators that control their functional competence and recruitment. Male seminal fluid is a potent source of the Treg cell‐inducing agents TGF β and prostaglandin E, and coitus is one key factor involved in expanding the pool of inducible Treg cells that react with paternal alloantigens shared by conceptus tissues. In mice, coitus initiates a sequence of events whereby female dendritic cells cross‐present seminal fluid antigens and activate T cells, which in turn circulate via the blood to be sequestered into the endometrium. Similar events may occur in the human genital tract, where seminal fluid induces immune cell changes that appear competent to prime Treg cells. Improved understanding of how seminal fluid influences Treg cells in women should ultimately assist in the development of new therapies for immune‐mediated pathologies of pregnancy.
The aim of this study was to investigate the effect of β-CP on embryo implantation in mice. Forty female mice were randomly assigned to four groups of 10 mice each: one control group and three β-CP treated groups. The control group was administered corn oil only, while the three β-CP-treated groups were given corn oil containing 5, 10, and 20 mg/kg bw d β-CP for 3 months through intragastric administration. The results indicated that the administration of β-CP decreased the rate of embryo implantation (all 0.05), E level in the serum, and the expression of Homeobox A10 (HoxA10) protein. In addition, β-CP significantly increased ERa and PRA protein expression levels. These results suggest that β-CP can disrupt the balance of E and P, influence ERa and PRA expression and their downstream-related molecule Hoxa10, and decrease embryo implantation.