Mucin-like glycoproteins in the equine embryonic capsule



The equine embryonic capsule replaces the zona pellucida and envelops the conceptus during the second and third weeks of pregnancy. Although this capsule was described more than 100 years ago, its molecular structure has not been characterized. Here we present evidence that the glycoprotein(s) of the equine capsule resembles those of the mucin glycoprotein family. The resistance of the capsule to chemical and enzymatic solubilization was confirmed, and, as in mucins, protein constituted only 35–40% of its total dry mass. Determination of the sugar composition of the capsule using colorimetric assays and high-performance anion-exchange chromatography also showed it to have mucin-like characteristics. Gal, GalNAc, sulfated sugars, and sialic acid make up a high proportion of the capsular carbohydrate, while GlcNAc, Glc, and Man are minor components. These findings were verified using lectin histochemical staining of frozen sections of conceptuses. The results of amino acid analysis were also consistent with the proposal that the capsular glycoproteins belong to the mucin family. Removal of the covalently bound carbohydrate by b̃-elimination under reducing conditions demonstrated that the capsule is O-glycosylated mainly on threonine residues. Affinity chromatography on jacalin-agarose confirmed that, like mucins, the capsular glycoproteins are heavily O-glycosylated. SDS-PAGE analysis revealed a prominent 21-kDa band, specific to the capsule, in preparations solubilized by trypsin but not by other proteases. Characterization of its constituent glycoprotein(s) should be helpful in elucidating the role of the capsule (and analogous blastocyst coverings in other species) during early pregnancy. © 1993 Wiley-Liss, Inc.