Implantation involves a complex set of events, including apoptosis in endometrial cells. Apoptosis in human endometrium coincides with the implantation window, suggesting a potential role for steroid hormones in its regulation. Fas ligand (FasL) is one of the mediators of apoptosis in differentiated cells and in embryonic development. Interaction of FasL with its receptor, Fas, induces apoptosis through autocrine and paracrine signaling. We hypothesized that FasL expression in human endometrium is cycle-dependent and that sex steroid hormones regulate FasL expression. We first studied menstrual cycle-dependent expression of FasL in human endometrium by immunohistochemistry in 24 samples. We then investigated the in vitro regulation of FasL expression by ovarian steroid hormones. Throughout the menstrual cycle immunohistochemical staining intensity was stronger in the functional layer of endometrium than it was in the basal layer. FasL immunoreactivity increased gradually through the mid- and late-proliferative phases in both endometrial stromal and glandular cells. Strong FasL expression was observed throughout the late-proliferative and secretory phases. Semiquantitative reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction analysis in cultured endometrial glandular cells demonstrated that estradiol and progesterone stimulate FasL mRNA expression. Western blot analysis in endometrial glandular and stromal cells in culture revealed that estradiol alone and in combination with progesterone up-regulated FasL protein expression. These results suggest that estradiol and progesterone may have a role in the regulation of maternal immunotolerance for the implantation of a semiallograft embryo by inducing FasL expression. We speculate that increased FasL expression may mediate the apoptosis of endometrial cells and thus may play a role in trophoblast invasion.
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