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Keywords:

  • Mifepristone;
  • Progesterone;
  • Plasma membrane transformation;
  • Scanning electron microscopy (SEM)

Abstract

During the window of receptivity, a narrow range of time under the control of the ovarian hormones progesterone and oestrogen, when a blastocyst can attach to the uterine surface, the plasma membrane of the uterine epithelial cells undergoes a remarkable change in structure, known as ‘the plasma membrane transformation’ of early pregnancy. RU486, the controversial abortion drug (Mifegyne™), acts as a progesterone receptor antagonist, resulting in transcriptionally inactive progesterone receptors. In view of this, a change in the well-documented sequences of the plasma membrane transformation is postulated. This study therefore aims to investigate the effects of RU486 on this sequence of events in the implantation and non-implantation sites of the rat uterus. In both RU486 treated and control animals, on days 4.5, 5.5 and 6.5 of pregnancy, scanning electron microscopy revealed a distinct pattern of folding of the uterine surface in non-implantation sites. In contrast, folding was not observed within the implantation sites. These results indicate that surface alterations are probably not under the control of progesterone signalling. The lack of folding at the implantation sites possibly ensures maximum close contact between the blastocyst and the maternal tissue thus promoting implantation. During early pregnancy, specifically on day 5.5, the microvilli of the uterine epithelial cells in the treated animals were more dense than those in the untreated animals. Such microvilli are characteristic of the uterine epithelial cells of a uterus under-stimulated by hormones. Flattening of the apical cell borders usually seen at the time of blastocyst attachment and implantation was not observed following RU486 treatment. Large apical protrusions were observed in the RU486 treated animals only, possibly linked in someway to apoptosis. The antiprogestin properties of RU486 may further elucidate the progesterone effects associated with early pregnancy.