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Keywords:

  • collagen;
  • endometrium;
  • pregnancy

Abstract

The adaptations of the mouse uterus to pregnancy include extensive modifications of the cells and extracellular matrix of the endometrial connective tissue that surround the embryos. Around each implanted embryo this tissue redifferentiates into a transient structure called decidua, which is formed by polygonal cells joined by intercellular junctions. In the mouse, thick collagen fibrils with irregular profile appear in decidualized areas of the endometrium but not in the nondecidualized stroma and interimplantation sites. The fine organization of these thick fibrils has not yet been established. This work was addressed to understand the arrangement and fine structure of collagen fibrils of the decidua of pregnant mice during the periimplantation stage. Major modifications occurred in collagen fibrils that surrounded decidual cells: (1) the fibrils, which were arranged in parallel bundles in nonpregnant animals, became organized as baskets around decidual cells; (2) very thick collagen fibrils with very irregular profiles appeared around decidual cells. Analysis of replicas and serial sections suggests that the thick collagen fibrils form by the lateral aggregation of thinner fibrils to a central fibril resulting in very irregular profile observed in cross sections of thick fibrils. The sum of modifications of the collagen fibrils seem to represent an adaptation of the endometrium to better support the decidual cells while they hold the embryos during the beginning of their development. The deposition of thick collagen fibrils in the decidua may contribute to form a barrier that impedes leukocyte migration within the decidua, preventing immunological rejection of genetically dissimilar embryonic tissues. Microsc. Res. Tech. 69:36–45, 2006. © 2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.