• plasma membrane;
  • uterine epithelial cell;
  • enzyme;
  • phosphatases;
  • blastocyst attachment

Ultrastructural and light microscopic cytochemical methods were used to study the distribution and changes in distribution of three phosphatase enzymes: 5′-nucleotidase (5N); thiamine pyrophosphatase (TPP); and adenosine triphosphatase (ATP) in the rat endometrium during early pregnancy up to the time of blastocyst attachment. The authors were particularly interested in changes in the apical plasma membrane and reaction product for all three enzymes was clearly localized along this membrane especially on day 1 of pregnancy. However, the three enzymes showed markedly different patterns of organization of reaction product at later times during early pregnancy. 5N, while showing a continuous lining along the microvilli on day 1 was virtually undetectable by day 6. TPP was also strongly present apically on day 1, but reaction product was not always found as a continuous lining. Again, by day 6, there was no presence of this enzyme along the apical surface. ATP differed from the other two in that it produced a strong, and relatively unchanged reaction product along the apical plasma membrane from day 1 through to day 6 of pregnancy. The changes in distribution of these enzymes was particularly obvious at the electron microscopic level and we consider their contribution to the process of ‘plasma membrane transformation’ of early pregnancy.