Interferon tau (IFNτ) is the signal for maternal recognition of pregnancy in ruminants. The positive effects of IFNτ on IFN-stimulated gene (ISG) expression are mediated by ISG factor 3 (ISGF3), which is composed of signal transducer and activator of transcription (Stat) 1, Stat 2, and IFN regulatory factor-9 (IRF-9), and by gamma-activated factor (GAF), which is a Stat 1 homodimer. Induction of ISGs, such as ISG17 and 2′,5′-oligoadenylate synthetase, by IFNτ during pregnancy is limited to the endometrial stroma (S) and glandular epithelium (GE) of the ovine uterus. The IRF-2, a potent transcriptional repressor of ISG expression, is expressed in the luminal epithelium (LE). This study determined effects of the estrous cycle, pregnancy, and IFNτ on expression of Stat 1, Stat 2, IRF-9, IRF-1, and IRF-2 genes in the ovine endometrium. In cyclic ewes, Stat 1, Stat 2, IRF-1, and IRF-9 mRNA and protein were detected at low levels in the S and GE. During pregnancy, expression of these genes increased only in the S and GE. Expression of IRF-2 was detected only in the LE and superficial GE (sGE) of both cyclic and pregnant ewes. In cyclic ewes, intrauterine administration of IFNτ stimulated Stat 1, Stat 2, IRF-9, and IRF-1 expression in the endometrium. Ovine IRF-2 repressed transcriptional activity driven by IFN-stimulated response elements that bind ISGF3, but not by gamma-activation sequences that bind GAF. These results suggest that IRF-2 in the LE and sGE restricts IFNτ induction of ISGs to the S and GE. In the S and GE, IFNτ hyperactivation of ISG expression likely involves formation and actions of the transcription factors ISGF3 and, perhaps, IRF-1.
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