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Anat Rec. 1999 Jul 1;255(3):241-51.

Ultrastructural studies of glycan changes in the apical surface of the uterine epithelium during pre-ovulatory and and pre-implantation stages in the marmoset monkey.

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  • 1Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.


It has been postulated that carbohydrates are involved in a variety of cell-cell interactions including blastocyst implantation. In primates, there are only limited investigations on the ultrastructural localisation of the cyclic changes in uterine epithelial surface carbohydrates. Our aim was to investigate such changes during the pre-ovulatory and pre-implantation stages of the reproductive cycle in the marmoset monkey. After fixation of endometrial tissues, avidin-ferritin lectin cytochemistry was employed for apical surface glycan detection at the ultrastructural level. Five lectins were used including Canavalia ensiformis (Con A), Lotus tetragonolobus (LTA), Glycine max (SBA), Phytolacca americana (PWM) and Triticum vulgaris (WGA). Morphometry was used to quantitate changes in the intensity of lectin staining by determining the total number of ferritin particles per unit length of membrane. Surface and intra-cytoplasmic vesicles, stained by the lectins, were also examined. Quantitative ferritin assessment showed that 1 day before presumed implantation (days 11 to 12 after ovulation in the marmoset monkey) there was a significant increase in Con A, LTA and SBA staining on the apical uterine epithelial plasma membrane compared to the pre-ovulatory phase and earlier stages of pregnancy (days 4-8 after ovulation). A significant increase in PWM was also detected from early pregnancy to pre-implantation stages. All lectins except WGA produced reproducible staining within reproductive cycle groups. The greatest variation and intensity of epithelial surface staining was observed with WGA and the weakest with LTA. The patchy staining with LTA compared with thick coverage by WGA indicated the complexity of the carbohydrate arrangement in the glycocalyx of the uterine surface plasma membrane. Reduction of WGA reactivity after neuraminidase treatment suggested that the lectin binding might be related to the presence of heavily sialylated apical uterine membrane glycoconjugates. This is the first high-resolution study in primates to report quantitative cyclic changes in fucosyl, galactosyl, glucosyl, and mannosyl sugar residues of the apical uterine epithelial glycocalyx. The findings support the concept that uterine epithelial glycocalyx surface carbohydrates play a role in preparing a receptive uterine surface.

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