In preparation for blastocyst implantation, uterine luminal epithelial cells express new cell adhesion molecules on their apical plasma membrane. Since one mechanism epithelial cells employ to regulate membrane polarity is the establishment of specific membrane-cytoskeletal interactions, this study was undertaken to determine if new cytokeratin (CK) intermediate filament assemblies are expressed in endometrial epithelial cells during developmental stages related to blastocyst implantation. Type-specific CK antibodies were used for immunocytochemical and immunoblot analyses of 1) intermediate filament networks of the endometrial epithelium during embryo implantation in rabbits and 2) proliferative and secretory phases of the human menstrual cycle. CK18, a type I CK found in most simple epithelia, was expressed in all luminal and glandular epithelial cells of both the human and rabbit endometrium at all developmental stages analyzed; it was also strongly expressed in trophectoderm of the implanting rabbit blastocyst. In contrast, CK13, another type I cytokeratin, exhibited a regulated expression pattern in luminal, but not glandular, epithelial cells of secretory phase human and peri-implantation stage rabbit endometrium. Furthermore, in the rabbit implantation chambers, CK13 was predominately localized at the cell apex of luminal epithelial cells, where it assembled into a dense filamentous network. These data suggest that the stage-specific expression of CK13 and a reorganization of the apical intermediate filament cytoskeleton of uterine luminal epithelial cells may play important functions in preparation for the implantation process.
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