Apposition to endometrial epithelial cells activates mouse blastocysts for implantation.

Ruane, Peter T., Berneau, Stephane orcid iconORCID: 0000-0003-4181-2745, Koeck, Rebekka, Watts, Jessica, Kimber, Susan J., Brison, Daniel R., Westwood, Melissa and Aplin, John D. (2017) Apposition to endometrial epithelial cells activates mouse blastocysts for implantation. Molecular Human Reproduction, 23 (9). pp. 617-627. ISSN 1360-9947

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How do interactions between blastocyst-stage embryos and endometrial epithelial cells regulate the early stages of implantation in an in vitro model?Mouse blastocyst apposition with human endometrial epithelial cells initiates trophectoderm differentiation to trophoblast, which goes on to breach the endometrial epithelium.In vitro models using mouse blastocysts and human endometrial cell lines have proven invaluable in the molecular characterisation of embryo attachment to endometrial epithelium at the onset of implantation. Genes involved in embryonic breaching of the endometrial epithelium have not been investigated in such in vitro models.This study used an established in vitro model of implantation to examine cellular and molecular interactions during blastocyst attachment to endometrial epithelial cells.Mouse blastocysts developed from embryonic day (E) 1.5 in vitro were hatched and co-cultured with confluent human endometrial adenocarcinoma-derived Ishikawa cells in serum-free medium. A scale of attachment stability based on blastocyst oscillation upon agitation was devised. Blastocysts were monitored for 48 h to establish the kinetics of implantation, and optical sectioning using fluorescence microscopy revealed attachment and invasion interfaces. Quantitative PCR was used to determine blastocyst gene expression. Data from a total of 680 mouse blastocysts are reported, with 3-6 experimental replicates. T-test and ANOVA analyses established statistical significance at P < 0.05, P < 0.01 and P < 0.001.Hatched E4.5 mouse blastocysts exhibited weak attachment to confluent Ishikawa cells over the first 24 h of co-culture, with intermediate and stable attachment occurring from 28 h (E5.5 + 4 h) in a hormone-independent manner. Attached embryos fixed after 48 h (E6.5) frequently exhibited outgrowths, characterised morphologically and with antibody markers as trophoblast giant cells (TGCs), which had breached the Ishikawa cell layer. Beginning co-culture at E5.5 also resulted in intermediate and stable attachment from E5.5 + 4 h; however, these embryos did not go on to breach the Ishikawa cell layer, even when co-culture was extended to E7.5 (P < 0.01). Blastocysts cultured from E4.5 in permeable transwell inserts above Ishikawa cells before transfer to direct co-culture at E5.5 went on to attach but failed to breach the Ishikawa cell layer by E6.5 (P < 0.01). Gene expression analysis at E5.5 demonstrated that direct co-culture with Ishikawa cells from E4.5 resulted in downregulation of trophectoderm transcription factors Cdx2 (P < 0.05) and Gata3 (P < 0.05) and upregulation of the TGC transcription factor Hand1 (P < 0.05). Co-culture with non-endometrial human fibroblasts did not alter the expression of these genes.None.The in vitro model used here combines human carcinoma-derived endometrial cells with mouse embryos, in which the cellular interactions observed may not fully recapitulate those in vivo. The data gleaned from such models can be regarded as hypothesis-generating, and research is now needed to develop more sophisticated models of human implantation combining multiple primary endometrial cell types with surrogate and real human embryos.This study implicates blastocyst apposition to endometrial epithelial cells as a critical step in trophoblast differentiation required for implantation. Understanding this maternal regulation of the embryonic developmental programme may lead to novel treatments for infertility.This work was supported by funds from the charities Wellbeing of Women (RG1442) and Diabetes UK (15/0005207), and studentship support for SCB from the Anatomical Society. No conflict of interest is declared.

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