Expression of tenascin, an extracellular matrix protein associated with morphogenetic events and altered states of cellular adhesion, was examined in mouse uterus during the peri-implantation period. A uniform low level expression of tenascin was detected in stromal extracellular matrix during the estrous cycle and days 1 through 4 of early pregnancy. During the period of blastocyst attachment (day 4.5), an intense deposition of tenascin fibrils was located in the extracellular matrix of stroma immediately subjacent to the uterine epithelium surrounding the attaching blastocyst. This localized intensity of tenascin expression was both spatially and temporally restricted. By day 5.5, differentiation of stroma in the immediate area around the embryo to form the primary decidual zone was accompanied by a reduced amount of tenascin expression in the form of fragmented fibrils. Tenascin also could be induced by an artificial stimulus in uterine stroma of mice that had been hormonally prepared for implantation. The ability of artificial stimuli to induce tenascin expression suggested that the tenascin-inducing signals were derived from uterine cells, presumably lumenal epithelium, rather than embryonic cells. Consistent with this, conditioned medium from primary cultures of uterine epithelium was found to induce tenascin expression (2- to 4-fold) in isolated uterine stroma. Artificial stimuli generated a temporal pattern of tenascin expression similar to that observed during early pregnancy; however, in the artificially induced model, tenascin was induced in stroma immediately subjacent to lumenal epithelium along the entire length of the uterus. Purified tenascin and a recombinant tenascin fragment consisting of alternatively spliced fibronectin type III repeats, interfered with maintenance of uterine epithelial cell adhesion to Matrigel. In contrast, other recombinant tenascin fragments or fibronectin had no effect in this regard. Tenascin had no effect on adhesion of uterine stroma. Collectively, these results suggest that stimulation of TN expression in stromal extracellular matrix in vivo occurs via hormonally regulated, epithelial-mesenchymal interactions and serves as an early marker for uterine receptivity and the attachment phase of implantation. Furthermore, tenascin may facilitate embryo penetration by disrupting uterine epithelial cell adhesion to underlying basal lamina.

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