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Jésus J Muniz, Margaret M Joyce, James D Taylor II, James R Burghardt, Robert C Burghardt and Greg A Johnson

Glycosylation dependent cell adhesion molecule 1 (GlyCAM-1), a mucin component of sheep histotroph produced by glandular epithelium (GE) during early pregnancy, is hypothesized to function in implantation. However, GlyCAM-1 is present in uterine tissues subsequent to implantation suggesting additional functions of this l-selectin-binding ligand. This study focused on uterine GlyCAM-1 expression during placentome development in sheep. Western blot analysis of day 50 pregnant sheep identified 45, 40, and 25 kDa bands in interplacentomal endometrium, 40 and 25 kDa bands in placentomes, and 80 and 40 kDa bands in chorioallantois. The GlyCAM-1 proteins in interplacentomal regions were comparable to those detected in day 15–19 pregnant sheep, however, the 80 kDa form was unique to chorioallantois, and the absence of the 45 kDa GlyCAM-1 in placentomes indicated differences between interplacentomal and placentomal endometrium. Immunofluorescence identified GlyCAM-1 in lumenal epithelium (LE), stromal fibroblasts, and vascular smooth muscle cells. To better define its cellular distribution, GlyCAM-1 was co-localized with either epithelium-specific cytokeratin, smooth muscle-specific alpha-smooth muscle actin (α SMA), or stromal-specific vimentin. In interplacentomal endometrium, GlyCAM-1 co-localized with cytokeratin in LE but not in GE. GlyCAM-1 did not co-localize with α SMA, and was localized in the extracellular matrix of vimentin-positive stroma. In placentomes, GlyCAM-1 did not co-localize with cytokeratin, but did co-localize with α SMA and vimentin. Thus, in contrast to interplacentomal regions, GlyCAM-1 in placentomes was predominantly localized in vasculature rather than epithelial cells. Further, leukocytes expressing L-selectin were localized to the endothelial surface of GlyCAM-1-expressing vessels within placentomes. These data suggest that GlyCAM-1 assumes distinct functions in compartment-specific regions of the sheep uterus.

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C Allison Gray, Kathrin A Dunlap, Robert C Burghardt and Thomas E Spencer

Galectin-15 is the newest member of a secreted β-galactoside-binding lectin family. The galectin-15 gene is expressed specifically by the endometrial luminal epithelium (LE) and superficial ductal glandular epithelium (sGE) of the ovine uterus. The proposed extracellular role of secreted galec7tin-15 is to regulate implantation and placentation by functioning as a heterophilic cell adhesion molecule between the conceptus trophectoderm and endometrial LE, while that of intracellular galectin-15 is to regulate cell survival, differentiation and function. The present study determined galectin-15 expression in uteroplacental tissues during gestation and in the postpartum uterus. In the uterine lumen, secreted galectin-15 was found as multimers, particularly on days 14 and 16 of pregnancy. In the endometrial epithelium and conceptus trophectoderm, intracellular galectin-15 protein was found associated with crystalline structures. Between days 20 and 120 of pregnancy, galectin-15 mRNA was expressed specifically by the LE and sGE of the intercaruncular endometrium of ewes. Immunoreactive galectin-15 protein was most abundant in the trophectoderm with lower levels in the endometrial LE and sGE. Galectin-15 protein was detected in allantoic fluid, but not in amniotic fluid. After parturition, galectin-15 mRNA declined in the endometrium from postpartum day (PPD) 1 to 28 and exhibited a variegated expression pattern in the LE and sGE. These results indicate that galectin-15 is synthesized and secreted throughout gestation by the endometrial LE/sGE and is absorbed by the placenta and forms crystals within the trophectoderm, whereas the remainder is cleared into the allantois after being transported into the fetal circulation via the placental areolae. Based on the biological properties of other galectin family members, galectin-15 is hypothesized to have biological roles in conceptus–endometrial interactions, uterine immune and inflammatory responses, and placental morphogenesis and function.

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Irene Ruiz-González, Jing Xu, Xiaoqiu Wang, Robert C Burghardt, Kathrin A Dunlap and Fuller W Bazer

Conceptus–endometrial communication during the peri-implantation period of pregnancy ensures establishment of pregnancy. We hypothesized that this dialog involves exosomes, ovine endogenous jaagsiekte retroviruses (enJSRV) and toll-like receptors (TLR) which regulate the secretion of interferon tau (IFNT), the pregnancy recognition signal in ruminants. First, exosomes isolated from uterine flushings from cyclic and pregnant ewes were analyzed for exosomal content and uterine expression of heat shock protein 70 (HSC70). Then, conceptus trophectoderm cells (oTr1) treated with different doses of exosomes were analyzed for the expression of genes involved in TLR-mediated cell signaling. The results revealed that exosomes contain mRNAs for enJSRV-ENV, HSC70, interleukins, and interferon (IFN)-regulatory factors. Exosomal content of enJSRV-ENV mRNA and protein decreased from days 10 and 12 to day 16 of gestation, and uterine expression of HSC70 increased in pregnant ewes compared with cyclic ewes. The oTr1 cells proliferated and secreted IFNT in a dose-dependent manner in response to exosomes from cyclic ewes. The expression of CD14, CD68, IRAK1, TRAF6, IRF6, and IRF7 mRNAs that are key to TLR-mediated expression of type 1 IFNs was significantly influenced by day of pregnancy. This study demonstrated that exosomes are liberated into the uterine lumen during the estrous cycle and early pregnancy; however, in pregnant ewes, exosomes stimulate trophectoderm cells to proliferate and secrete IFNT coordinately with regulation of TLR-mediated cell signaling. These results support our hypothesis that free and/or exosomal enJSRV act on the trophectoderm via TLR to induce the secretion of IFNT in a manner similar to that for innate immune responses of macrophages and plasmacytoid dendritic cells to viral pathogens.

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Thomas E Spencer, Greg A Johnson, Fuller W Bazer and Robert C Burghardt

Implantation in all mammals involves shedding of the zona pellucida, followed by orientation, apposition, attachment and adhesion of the blastocyst to the endometrium. Endometrial invasion does not occur in domestic ruminants; thus, definitive implantation is achieved by adhesion of the mononuclear trophoblast cells to the endometrial lumenal epithelium (LE) and formation of syncytia by the fusion of trophoblast binucleate cells with the LE. This review highlights new information on mechanisms regulating the implantation cascade in sheep. The embryo enters the uterus on day 4 at the morula stage of development and then develops into a blastocyst by day 6. The blastocyst sheds the zona pellucida (day 8), elongates to a filamentous form (days 11–16), and adheres to the endometrial LE (day 16). Between days 14 and 16, the binucleate cells begin to differentiate in the trophoblast and subsequently migrate and fuse with the endometrial LE to form syncytia. Continuous exposure of the endometrium to progesterone in early pregnancy downregulates the progesterone receptors in the epithelia, a process which is associated with loss of the cell-surface mucin MUC1 and induction of several secreted adhesion proteins. Recurrent early pregnancy loss in the uterine gland knockout ewe model indicates that secretions of the endometrial epithelia have a physiologic role in blastocyst elongation and implantation. A number of endometrial proteins have been identified as potential regulators of blastocyst development and implantation in sheep, including glycosylated cell adhesion molecule 1 (GlyCAM-1), galectin-15, integrins and osteopontin. The epithelial derived secreted adhesion proteins (GlyCAM-1, galectin-15 and osteopontin) are expressed in a dynamic temporal and spatial manner and regulated by progesterone and/or interferon tau, which is the pregnancy recognition signal produced by the trophoblast during blastocyst elongation. The noninvasive and protracted nature of implantation in domestic animals provides valuable opportunities to investigate fundamental processes of implantation that are shared among all mammals. Understanding of the cellular and molecular signals that regulate uterine receptivity and implantation can be used to diagnose and identify causes of recurrent pregnancy loss and to improve pregnancy outcome in domestic animals and humans.

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James W Frank, Heewon Seo, Robert C Burghardt, Kayla J Bayless and Greg A Johnson

Attachment of the conceptus trophoblast (Tr) to the uterine luminal epithelium (LE) is critical for successful implantation. This study determined whether alpha v (av) integrins (ITGAV) directly mediate porcine trophoblast cell adhesion to secreted phosphoprotein 1 (SPP1, also known as osteopontin (OPN)) and examined the temporal/spatial expression of ITGAV, beta 3 (b3, ITGB3) and beta 6 (b6, ITGB6) integrin subunits, and SPP1, at the uterine–placental interface of pigs. Knockdown of ITGAV in porcine Tr (pTr2) cells by siRNA reduced pTr2 attachment to SPP1. In situ hybridization confirmed the presence of ITGAV, ITGB3 and ITGB6 mRNAs in uterine LE and conceptus Tr between Days 9 and 60 of gestation, with no change in the magnitude of expression over the course of pregnancy. Exogenous E2 or P4 did not affect ITGAV, ITGB3 and ITGB6 mRNA expression in the uteri of ovariectomized gilts. Immunofluorescence identified ITGAV, ITGB3 and SPP1 proteins in large aggregates at the uterine LE-placental Tr/chorion interface on Day 25, but aggregates were no longer observed by Day 50 of gestation. These results are the first to directly demonstrate that pTr2 cells engage ITGAV-containing integrin receptors to adhere to SPP1 and suggest that mechanical forces generated by tethering elongating conceptuses to uterine LE leads to assembly of focal adhesions containing ITGAV and SPP1; however, as placentation progresses, subsequent folding/interdigitation at the uterine–placental interface disperses mechanical forces resulting in the loss of focal adhesions.

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Fuller W Bazer, Thomas E Spencer, Greg A Johnson, Robert C Burghardt and Guoyao Wu

Uterine receptivity to implantation of blastocysts in mammals includes hatching from zona pellucida, precontact with uterine luminal (LE) and superficial glandular (sGE) epithelia and orientation of blastocyst, apposition between trophectoderm and uterine LE and sGE, adhesion of trophectoderm to uterine LE/sGE, and, in some species, limited or extensive invasion into the endometrial stroma and induction of decidualization of stromal cells. These peri-implantation events are prerequisites for pregnancy recognition signaling, implantation, and placentation required for fetal–placental growth and development through the remainder of pregnancy. Although there is a range of strategies for implantation in mammals, a common feature is the requirement for progesterone (P4) to downregulate expression of its receptors in uterine epithelia and P4 prior to implantation events. P4 then mediates its effects via growth factors expressed by stromal cells in most species; however, uterine luminal epithelium may express a growth factor in response to P4 and/or estrogens in species with a true epitheliochorial placenta. There is also compelling evidence that uterine receptivity to implantation involves temporal and cell-specific expression of interferon (IFN)-stimulated genes that may be induced directly by an IFN or induced by P4 and stimulated by an IFN. These genes have many roles including nutrient transport, cellular remodeling, angiogenesis and relaxation of vascular tissues, cell proliferation and migration, establishment of an antiviral state, and protection of conceptus tissues from challenges by the maternal immune cells.

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Robert C Burghardt, James R Burghardt, James D Taylor II, Adele T Reeder, Bar T Nguen, Thomas E Spencer, Kayla J Bayless and Greg A Johnson

The integrity of the fetal–maternal interface is critical for proper fetal nourishment during pregnancy. Integrins are important adhesion molecules present at the interface during implantation; however, in vivo evidence for integrin activation and focal adhesion formation at the maternal–conceptus interface is limited. We hypothesized that focal adhesion assembly in uterine luminal epithelium (LE) and conceptus trophectoderm (Tr) results from integrin binding of extracellular matrix (ECM) at this interface to provide increased tensile forces and signaling to coordinate utero-placental development. An ovine model of unilateral pregnancy was used to evaluate mechanotransduction events leading to focal adhesion assembly at the maternal–conceptus interface and within the uterine wall. Animals were hysterectomized on days 40, 80, or 120 of pregnancy, and uteri immunostained for integrins (ITGAV, ITGA4, ITGA5, ITGB1, ITGB3, and ITGB5), ECM proteins (SPP1, LGALS15, fibronectin (FN), and vitronectin (VTN)), cytoskeletal molecules (ACTN and TLN1), and a signal generator (PTK2). Focal adhesion assembly in myometrium and stroma was also studied to provide a frame of reference for mechanical stretch of the uterine wall. Large focal adhesions containing aggregates of ITGAV, ITGA4, ITGA5, ITGB1, ITGB5, ACTN, and PTK2 were detected in interplacentomal uterine LE and Tr of gravid but not non-gravid uterine horns and increased during pregnancy. SPP1 and LGALS15, but not FN or VTN, were present along LE and Tr interfaces in both uterine horns. These data support the idea that focal adhesion assembly at the maternal–conceptus interface reflects adaptation to increasing forces caused by the growing fetus. Cooperative binding of multiple integrins to SPP1 deposited at the maternal–conceptus interface forms an adhesive mosaic to maintain a tight connection between uterine and placental surfaces along regions of epitheliochorial placentation in sheep.

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Kanako Hayashi, Karen D Carpenter, Thomas H Welsh Jr, Robert C Burghardt, Leon J Spicer and Thomas E Spencer

Postnatal development of the ovine uterus primarily involves uterine gland morphogenesis or adenogenesis. Adenogenesis involves the budding differentiation of the glandular epithelium (GE) from the luminal epithelium (LE) and then GE proliferation and coiling/branching morphogenetic development within the stroma between birth (postnatal day or PND 0) and PND 56. Insulin-like growth factor (IGF)-I and IGF-II mRNAs were previously found to be expressed only in the endometrial stroma, whereas the IGF receptor (IGF-1R) mRNA was most abundant in epithelia and in stroma, suggesting that an intrinsic IGF system regulates postnatal development of the uterus. Given that the biological activities of IGFs are modulated by a family of six IGF binding proteins (IGFBPs) and specific proteases, the objective was to determine the effects of age and estrogen disruption on expression of IGFs, IGFBPs and pregnancy-associated plasma protein A (PAPP-A or IGFBP-4 protease) in the ovine uterus. In Study One, circulating levels of IGF-I and IGF-II in the serum of neonatal ewes did not change between PND 0 and PND 56. Levels of immunoreactive IGF-I, IGF-II and IGF-1R protein were most abundant on the apical surface of the endometrial LE and GE. RT-PCR analyses detected expression of IGFBPs (3, 4, 5 and 6) as well as PAPP-A mRNAs in the uterus, but not IGFBP-1 and IGFBP-2 mRNAs. IGFBP-3 and IGFBP-4 mRNAs were expressed specifically in the endometrial stroma and myometrium and increased after birth. PAPP-A mRNA was expressed specifically in the endometrial stroma and increased after birth. In Study Two, ewes were treated from birth with estradiol-17β valerate (EV), which reduces uterine growth and inhibits endometrial adenogenesis. On PNDs 14 and 56, IGFBP-3 mRNA was decreased in the uterus of EV-treated ewes, but IGF-1R and IGFBP-4 mRNAs were not affected. PAPP-A mRNA was increased by EV treatment on PND 14, but decreased on PND 56. These results support the hypothesis that an intrinsic IGF system in the uterus regulates epithelial–stromal interactions important for postnatal uterine growth and endometrial gland morphogenesis in the sheep.

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Frankie J White, Robert C Burghardt, Jianbo Hu, Margaret M Joyce, Thomas E Spencer and Greg A Johnson

Secreted phosphoprotein 1 (SPP1, osteopontin) is the most highly upregulated extracellular matrix/adhesion molecule/cytokine in the receptive phase human uterus, and Spp1 null mice manifest decreased pregnancy rates during mid-gestation as compared with wild-type counterparts. We hypothesize that Spp1 is required for proliferation, migration, survival, adhesion, and remodeling of cells at the conceptus–maternal interface. Our objective was to define the temporal/spatial distribution and steroid regulation of Spp1 in mouse uterus during estrous cycle and early gestation. In situ hybridization localized Spp1 to luminal epithelium (LE) and immune cells. LE expression was prominent at proestrus, decreased by estrus, and was nearly undetectable at diestrus. During pregnancy, Spp1 mRNA was not detected in LE until day 4.5 (day 1 = vaginal plug). Spp1-expressing immune cells were scattered within the endometrial stroma throughout the estrous cycle and early pregnancy. Immunoreactive Spp1 was prominent at the apical LE surface by day 4.5 of pregnancy and Spp1 protein was also co-localized with subsets of CD45-positive (leukocytes) and F4/80-positive (macrophages) cells. In ovariectomized mice, estrogen, but not progesterone, induced Spp1 mRNA, whereas estrogen plus progesterone did not induce Spp1 in LE. These results establish that estrogen regulates Spp1 in mouse LE and are the first to identify macrophages that produce Spp1 within the peri-implantation endometrium of any species. We suggest that Spp1 at the apical surface of LE provides a mechanism to bridge conceptus to LE during implantation, and that Spp1-positive macrophages within the stroma may be involved in uterine remodeling for conceptus invasion.

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Dana A Massuto, Eric C Kneese, Gregory A Johnson, Robert C Burghardt, R Neil Hooper, Nancy H Ing and Laurie A Jaeger

The process of implantation is mediated by a complex network of signaling and adhesive factors. In the pig, latent and active transforming growth factor beta (TGFB), TGFB receptors (TGFBR), and integrins (ITGs) are present during the peri-implantation period. TGFB signals via TGFBR and activates downstream effector SMAD proteins 2 and 3 (p-SMAD2/3). Latency-associated peptide (LAP), part of the latent TGFB complex, is known to bind to ITG heterodimers and activate TGFB. We hypothesize that active TGFBs and TGFBRs along with LAP and ITGs functionally interact at the conceptus–maternal interface to mediate events essential for conceptus development and attachment in pigs. Uteri and conceptuses from days 10, 12, 16, 20, and 24 pregnant gilts were immunostained for TGFB, LAP, and ITG subunits (ITGAV, ITGB1, ITGB3, ITGB5, ITGB6, and ITGB8). Activation of TGFBRs was evaluated by the presence of phosphorylated downstream effector SMAD2/3. Binding of LAP to ITGs was also evaluated using porcine trophectoderm cells. Abundant active TGFB was detected at the apical surfaces of epithelia at the conceptus–maternal interface, and p-SMAD2/3 was detected at both conceptus attachment and nonattachment sites during implantation. Separate aggregates of LAP, ITGB1, ITGB5, and later ITGB3 were detected at the porcine conceptus–maternal interface, and binding of LAP to ITGs on apical surfaces was demonstrated. Results suggest that functional LAP–ITG adhesion complexes support conceptus attachment and promote TGFB activation leading to TGFB interaction with TGFBR supporting events of porcine implantation.