Insulin-like growth factors (IGF-I and IGF-II) are essential for normal uterine development and have been particularly implicated in fetal and placental growth. A family of six IGF binding proteins enhance or attenuate IGF-stimulated cell proliferation. In this study we have used in situ hybridization to map the distribution of IGFBP-6, one of the lesser known of the IGFBPs, in sections of the uterus collected from cyclic, anestrous, and ovariectomized nonpregnant ewes and from the uterus and placenta of early pregnant (13–55 days) and unilaterally pregnant ewes. In nonpregnant ewes IGFBP-6 mRNA (measured as arbitrary optical density units from autoradiographs) was abundant in the periepithelium and caruncles, with lower levels in the endometrial stroma and myometrium. In most regions IGFBP-6 mRNA showed cyclic variations with concentrations maximal around ovulation and the early luteal phase. In addition, 16 out of 25 ewes expressed IGFBP-6 mRNA in their endometrial glands between estrus and Day 2. Measurements of IGFBP-6 mRNA were high in anestrous ewes (equivalent values to ovulation) but low in ovariectomized ewes (equivalent values to mid to late luteal phase). In pregnant ewes IGFBP-6 mRNA was found in similar regions to those recorded during the cycle. In the periepithelium and caruncular stroma IGFBP-6 mRNA levels were higher during early pregnancy than in the midluteal phase. In the unilateral pregnant ewes there was no difference in IGFBP-6 mRNA measured between pregnant and nonpregnant horns. In conclusion, IGFBP-6 mRNA is differentially regulated during the estrous cycle and pregnancy and may be functionally important in modulating IGF activity in the uterus and placenta by virtue of its strong affinity and ability to regulate IGF-II mediated actions.
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