This study examined the expression patterns of oxytocin and steroid receptors in the bovine endometrium during the oestrous cycle and early pregnancy to elucidate their respective roles in the regulation of luteolysis and the maternal recognition of pregnancy. In Expt 1, uterine biopsies were collected from four cows throughout three oestrous cycles each, to provide daily samples. In Expt 2, uterine tissue was collected on days 12, 14, 16 and 18 of the oestrous cycle (n = 20) or early pregnancy (n = 16). Oxytocin receptor, oestrogen receptor alpha and progesterone receptor mRNAs were localized by in situ hybridization, and localization of oestrogen receptor and progesterone receptor was confirmed by immunocytochemistry. All three receptors showed time- and cell-specific expression patterns. Oestrogen receptor alpha increased in all regions at oestrus but high concentrations were also found in the luminal epithelium during the mid-luteal phase and in the deep glands throughout the oestrous cycle. Progesterone receptor expression was higher in the stroma than it was in the types of epithelial cell, and increased expression was observed at oestrus and during the early luteal phase. The cyclical upregulation of oxytocin receptors in the luminal epithelium on about day 16 was not related to preceding changes in the endometrial expression of either oestradiol alpha or progesterone receptors. During early pregnancy, oxytocin receptor expression was suppressed. Oestrogen receptor a concentrations increased in the non-pregnant cows and decreased in the pregnant cows between days 16 and 18, but these changes followed rather than preceded the upregulation of oxytocin receptors in the non-pregnant cows. It is concluded that the initial upregulation of oxytocin receptors in the luminal epithelium, which triggers luteolysis, is not associated directly with changes in expression of oestrogen receptor alpha.
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