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.
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.
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 distribution of intrauterine embryo implantation site(s) in most mammalian species shows remarkably constant patterns: in monotocous species such as humans, an embryo tends to implant in the uterine fundus; in polytocous species such as rodents, embryos implant evenly along the uterine horns. These long-time evolved patterns bear great biological significance because disruption of these patterns can have adverse effects on pregnancies. However, lack of suitable models and monitoring techniques has impeded the progress in understanding the mechanisms of intrauterine embryo distribution. These obstacles are being overcome by genetically engineered mouse models and newly developed high-resolution ultrasound. It has been revealed that intrauterine embryo distribution involves multiple events including uterine sensing of an embryo, fine-tuned uterine peristaltic movements, time-controlled uterine fluid reabsorption and uterine luminal closure, as well as embryo orientation. Diverse molecular factors, such as steroid hormone signaling, lipid signaling, adrenergic signaling, developmental genes, ion/water channels, and potentially embryonic signaling are actively involved in intrauterine embryo distribution. This review covers the biomechanical and molecular aspects of intrauterine embryo distribution (embryo spacing at the longitudinal axis and embryo orientation at the vertical axis), as well as its pathophysiological roles in human reproductive medicine. Future progress requires multi-disciplinary research efforts that will integrate animal models, clinical cases, physiologically relevant models, and biomechanical/computational modeling. Understanding the mechanisms for intrauterine embryo distribution could potentially lead to development of therapeutics for treating related conditions in reproductive medicine.
Gap junctions have an important role in cell-to-cell communication, a process obviously required for embryo implantation. Uterine luminal epithelium (LE) is the first contact for an implanting embryo and is critical for the establishment of uterine receptivity. Microarray analysis of the LE from peri-implantation mouse uterus showed low-level expression of 19 gap junction proteins in preimplantation LE and upregulation of gap junction protein, beta 2 (GJB2, connexin 26, Cx26) in postimplantation LE. Time course study using in situ hybridization and immunofluorescence revealed upregulation of GJB2 in the LE surrounding the implantation site before decidualization. Similar dynamic expression of GJB2 was observed in the LE of artificially decidualized mice but not pseudopregnant mice. To determine the potential function of uterine gap junctions in embryo implantation, carbenoxolone (CBX), a broad gap junction blocker, was injected i.p. (100 mg/kg) or via local uterine fat pad (10 mg/kg) into pregnant mice on Gestation Day 3 at 1800 h, a few hours before embryo attachment to the LE. These CBX treatments disrupted embryo implantation, suggesting local effects of CBX in the uterus. However, i.p. injection of glycyrrhizic acid (100 mg/kg), which shares similar structure and multiple properties with CBX but is ineffective in blocking gap junctions, did not affect embryo implantation. Carbenoxolone also inhibited oil-induced artificial decidualization, concomitant with suppressed molecular changes and ultrastructural transformations associated with uterine preparation for embryo implantation, underscoring the adverse effect of CBX on uterine preparation for embryo implantation. These data demonstrate that uterine gap junctions are important for embryo implantation.
This study has evaluated the performance of a multivariate statistical model to predict embryo implantation potential by processing data from the chemical fingerprinting of culture medium samples used for human embryo culture. The culture medium for 113 embryos from 55 patients undergoing ICSI was collected after embryo transfer. The samples were split into positive (n=29) and negative (n=84) implantation groups according their implantation outcomes (100% or 0% implantation). The samples were individually diluted and analyzed by electrospray ionization mass spectrometry (ESI-MS). The m/z ratios and relative abundances of the major ions in each spectrum were considered for partial least square discriminant analysis. Data were divided into two subsets (calibration and validation), and the models were evaluated and applied to the validation set. A total of 5987 ions were observed in the groups. The multivariate statistical model described more than 82% of the data variability. Samples of the positive group were correctly identified with 100% probability and negative samples with 70%. The culture media used for embryos that were positive or negative for successful implantation showed specific biochemical signatures that could be detected in a fast, simple, and noninvasive way by ESI-MS. To our knowledge, this is the first report that uses MS fingerprinting to predict human embryo implantation potential. This biochemical profile could help the selection of the most viable embryo, improving single-embryo transfer and thus eliminating the risk and undesirable outcomes of multiple pregnancies.