Effects of age on uterine histoarchitecture, cell proliferation, and hormone receptor expression were determined for neonatal ewe lambs from birth (Postnatal Day [PND] 0) to PND 56. Uteri were histologically evaluated and proliferating cell nuclear antigen (PCNA), estrogen receptor alpha (ER-α), progesterone receptor (PR), and prolactin receptor (PRL-R) expression were characterized by in situ hybridization (ISH), immunohistochemistry, or both. The most striking feature of neonatal uterine development was the genesis and development of glands in the intercaruncular areas of endometrium. After birth, endometrial glandular epithelium (GE) budded and differentiated into the underlying stroma from the luminal epithelium (LE) between PNDs 1 and 7. Between PNDs 14 and 56, extensive coiling and branching morphogenesis of nascent endometrial glands occurred. By PND 56, the uterine wall appeared to be histoarchitecturally mature. At birth, nuclear PCNA protein was strongly detected in LE. Between PNDs 7 and 56, high levels of PCNA, ER-α, and PR gene expression were detected in both nascent and developing GE. Higher levels of PCNA and ER-α expression were detected in GE at the tips of developing glands as well as in the surrounding stroma. Progesterone was below detectable limits in serum. Serum estradiol-17β levels were high on PND 1, increased from PNDs 14 to 28, and declined from PND 42 to PND 56. Serum PRL levels increased from PNDs 1 to 14 and declined thereafter. Using ISH and reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) analysis, expression of mRNAs for short and long forms of the ovine PRL-R were first detected in nascent GE on PND 7 and increased between PNDs 7 and 56 in proliferating and differentiating GE. These results indicate that 1) uterine gland genesis is initiated between PNDs 1 and 7 after birth and is essentially completed by PND 56; 2) neonatal uterine morphogenesis involves temporal and spatial alterations in cell proliferation and ER-α, PR, and PRL-R gene expression; 3) PRL-R expression is a unique marker of GE differentiation and proliferation; and 4) serum estradiol-17β and PRL levels increase during the onset of GE tubular branching morphogenesis. Results support the hypothesis that neonatal ovine uterine development involves epithelial PRL-R and ER-α activation to stimulate and maintain endometrial gland genesis and branching morphogenesis.
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