Development of the blastocyst to implantation competency, differentiation of the uterus to the receptive state, and a cross talk between the implantation-competent blastocyst and the uterine luminal epithelium are all essential to the process of implantation. In the present investigation, we examined the possibility for a potential cross talk between the blastocyst and uterus involving the ezrin/radixin/moesin (ERM) proteins and ERM-associated cytoskeletal cross-linker proteins CD43, CD44, ICAM-1, and ICAM-2. In normal Day 4 blastocysts and after rendering dormant blastocysts to implantation-competent by estrogen in vivo (activated), the outer surface of mural trophectoderm cells showed much higher levels of radixin as compared to those in the polar trophectoderm cells, inner cell mass (ICM), and primitive endoderm. In contrast, ezrin was present on both the mural and the polar trophectoderm cell surfaces of normal Day 4 and activated blastocysts at higher intensity than dormant blastocysts. A distinct localization was noted in the primitive endoderm of dormant blastocysts that was not apparent in activated or normal Day 4 blastocysts. The expression of moesin was modestly higher at the mural trophectoderm of implantation-competent blastocysts, while the localization appeared to be present primarily on the polar trophectoderm cell surface of Day 4 blastocysts. The localization of ERM-associated adhesion molecules CD43, CD44, and ICAM-2 was more intense in the implantation-competent blastocysts compared with the dormant blastocysts. However, while CD44 was present both in the trophectoderm and in ICM, CD43 and ICAM-2 were localized primarily to the trophectoderm. The signal for ICAM-1 was very intense in the ICM but was modest in the trophectoderm. No significant changes in fluorescence intensity were noted between activated and dormant blastocysts. In the receptive uterus on Day 4 of pregnancy, ERM proteins were localized to the uterine epithelium, while on Day 5 the localization, especially of radixin and moesin, extended to the stroma surrounding the implantation chamber. With respect to ERM-associated adhesion molecules, while CD44 and ICAM-1 were exclusively localized in the stroma on Day 4, CD43 and ICAM-2 were localized to the epithelium. On Day 5, the localization of CD44 and ICAM-1 became highly concentrated in the antimesometrial stroma of the implantation chamber. The localization of CD43 and ICAM-2 remained mostly epithelial, although some stromal localization of CD43 was noted on Day 5. These results suggest that differential expression and distribution of ERM proteins and ERM-associated adhesion molecules are involved in the construction of the cellular architecture necessary for blastocyst activation and uterine receptivity leading to successful implantation.
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