Exponential proliferation of trophoblast stem cells (TSC) is crucial in Ruminantia to maximize numerical access to caruncles, the restricted uterine sites that permit implantation. When translating systems biology of the undifferentiated bovine trophectoderm, we uncovered that inhibition of RhoA/Rock promoted self-renewing proliferation and substantially increased blastocyst size. Analysis of transcripts suppressed by Rock inhibition revealed transforming growth factor β1 (TGFβ1) as a primary upstream effector. TGFβ1 treatment induced changes consistent with differentiation in bTSCs, a response that could be replicated by induced expression of the bovine ROCK2 transgene. Rocki could partially antagonize TGFβ1 effects, and TGFβ receptor inhibition promoted proliferation identical to Rocki, indicating an all-encompassing upstream regulation. Morphological differentiation included formation of binucleate cells and infrequent multinucleate syncytia, features we also localize in the in vivo bovine placenta. Collectively, we demonstrate a central role for TGFβ1, RhoA and Rock in inducing bTSC differentiation, attenuation of which is sufficient to sustain self-renewal and proliferation linked to blastocyst size and preimplantation development. Unraveling these mechanisms augments evolutionary/comparative physiology of the trophoblast cell lineage and placental development in eutherians.

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