Endometrial glands secrete molecules hypothesized to support conceptus growth and development. In sheep, endometrial gland morphogenesis occurs postnatally and can be epigenetically ablated by neonatal progestin exposure. The resulting stable adult uterine gland knockout (UGKO) phenotype was used here to test the hypothesis that endometrial glands are required for successful pregnancy. Mature UGKO ewes were bred repeatedly to fertile rams, but no pregnancies were detected by ultrasound on Day 25. Day 7 blastocysts from normal superovulated ewes were then transferred synchronously into Day 7 control or UGKO ewes. Ultrasonography on Days 25–65 postmating indicated that pregnancy was established in control, but not in UGKO ewes. To examine early uterine-embryo interactions, four control and eight UGKO ewes were bred to fertile rams. On Day 14, their uteri were flushed. The uterus of each control ewe contained two filamentous conceptuses of normal length. Uteri from four UGKO ewes contained no conceptus. Uteri of three UGKO ewes contained a single severely growth-retarded tubular conceptus, whereas the remaining ewe contained a single filamentous conceptus. Histological analyses of these uteri revealed that endometrial gland density was directly related to conceptus survival and developmental state. Day 14 UGKO uteri that were devoid of endometrial glands did not support normal conceptus development and contained either no conceptuses or growth-retarded tubular conceptuses. The Day 14 UGKO uterus with moderate gland development contained a filamentous conceptus. Collectively, these results demonstrate that endometrial glands and, by inference, their secretions are required for periimplantation conceptus survival and development.
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