Dynamic regulation of intercellular junctions is an essential aspect of many developmental, reproductive, and physiological processes. We have shown that expression of the desmosomal protein desmoplakin decreases in the luminal uterine epithelium during the preimplantation period of pregnancy in mice. By the time of implantation (between Days 4.5 and 5 of pregnancy), desmoplakin protein can barely be detected by SDS-PAGE and Western blotting, and by immunocytochemistry, it is restricted to well-spaced, punctate dots at the apicolateral junction. Using confocal XZ series and electron microscope quantitation, both the density and distribution of desmosomes along the lateral cell surfaces of luminal epithelial cells were observed to change during early pregnancy. On Day 1 of pregnancy, desmosomes were found at high density in the apicolateral junctional complex, being present here in 79% of ultrathin sections examined, whereas on Day 5, the density was much reduced (present in only 18% of ultrathin sections examined). Desmosomes were found along the lateral surfaces, at or below the level of the nucleus, in 15% of ultrathin sections examined on Day 1 of pregnancy but in only 1% on Day 5. Desmoplakin mRNA declined during the first 4–5 days of pregnancy, along with the protein, suggesting that these changes are controlled at the level of mRNA. This study shows that desmosomes are regulated during early pregnancy, and we propose that a reduction in desmosome adhesion facilitates penetration of the luminal epithelium by trophoblast cells at implantation.
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