Calcium is a major requirement for developing embryos, but an insufficient amount is present in egg-yolk to sustain embryonic development in most reptiles. Consequently, the eggshell acts as an extra-lectithal source of calcium in oviparous amniote vertebrates, including squamates. A number of anatomical and physiological changes must accompany the evolutionary transitions from oviparity to viviparity, including the reduction or elimination of the eggshell. In our quest to understand the evolution of viviparity, we have used indirect immunofluorescence to characterize Ca2 ATPase pumps in the uterus of a targeted range of species of Eugongylus group skinks and bird species at various stages of the reproductive cycle, including pregnancy. During egg-shelling, apical localisation of Ca2 ATPase pumps occurs in the glandular epithelium of the uterus in the oviparous lizard Lampropholis guichenoti and the King quail Coturnix chinensis, presumably to allow movement of calcium against its electrochemical gradient into the lumen of the glandular duct and ultimately to the uterine lumen and developing embryo. Interestingly, structurally similar shell glands containing Ca2 ATPase pumps occur in the uterine lamina propria (stroma) of viviparous species, although we have so far seen them only in early vitellogenic N. ocellatus and non-pregnant female Pseudemoia spenceri. Our findings suggest that the down regulation of Ca2 ATPase in the shell glands may be an important contributor to the evolution of viviparity through the loss of an eggshell.
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