Human endometrium regenerates on a cyclic basis from candidate stem/progenitors whose genetic programs are yet to be determined. A subpopulation of endometrial stromal cells, displaying key properties of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), has been characterized. The endometrial MSC (eMSC) is likely the precursor of the endometrial stromal fibroblast. The goal of this study was to determine the transcriptome and signaling pathways in the eMSC to understand its functional phenotype. Endometrial stromal cells from oocyte donors (n = 20) and patients undergoing benign gynecologic surgery (n = 7) were fluorescence-activated cell sorted into MCAM (CD146) /PDGFRB (eMSC), MCAM (CD146)−/PDGFRB (fibroblast), and MCAM (CD146) /PDGFRB− (endothelial) populations. The eMSC population contained clonogenic cells with a mesenchymal phenotype differentiating into adipocytes when cultured in adipogenic medium. Gene expression profiling using Affymetrix Human Gene 1.0 ST arrays revealed 762 and 1518 significantly differentially expressed genes in eMSCs vs. stromal fibroblasts and eMSCs vs. endothelial cells, respectively. By principal component and hierarchical clustering analyses, eMSCs clustered with fibroblasts and distinctly from endothelial cells. Endometrial MSCs expressed pericyte markers and were localized by immunofluorescence to the perivascular space of endometrial small vessels. Endometrial MSCs also expressed genes involved in angiogenesis/vasculogenesis, steroid hormone/hypoxia responses, inflammation, immunomodulation, cell communication, and proteolysis/inhibition, and exhibited increased Notch, TGFB, IGF, Hedgehog, and G-protein-coupled receptor signaling pathways, characteristic of adult tissue MSC self-renewal and multipotency. Overall, the data support the eMSC as a clonogenic, multipotent pericyte that displays pathways of self-renewal and lineage specification, the potential to respond to conditions during endometrial desquamation and regeneration, and a genetic program predictive of its differentiated lineage, the stromal fibroblast.
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Vol. 86 • No. 2