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Reproduction. 2006 Aug;132(2):217-32.

TGF-beta superfamily expression and actions in the endometrium and placenta.

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Prince Henry's Institute of Medical Research, PO Box 5152, Clayton, VIC 3166, Australia.


Transforming growth factor beta (TGFbeta) superfamily members are closely associated with tissue remodelling events and reproductive processes. This review summarises the current state of knowledge regarding the expression and actions of TGFbeta superfamily members in the uterus, during the menstrual cycle and establishment of pregnancy. TGFbetas and activin beta subunits are abundantly expressed in the endometrium, where roles in preparation events for implantation have been delineated, particularly in promoting decidualisation of endometrial stroma. These growth factors are also expressed by epithelial glands and secreted into uterine fluid, where interactions with preimplantation embryos are anticipated. Knockout models and embryo culture experiments implicate activins, TGFbetas, nodal and bone morphogenetic proteins (BMPs) in promoting pre- and post-implantation embryo development. TGFbeta superfamily members may therefore be important in the maternal support of embryo development. Following implantation, invasion of the decidua by fetal trophoblasts is tightly modulated. Activin promotes, whilst TGFbeta and macrophage inhibitory cytokine-1 (MIC-1) inhibit, trophoblast migration in vitro, suggesting the relative balance of TGFbeta superfamily members participate in modulating the extent of decidual invasion. Activins and TGFbetas have similar opposing actions in regulating placental hormone production. Inhibins and activins are produced by the placenta throughout pregnancy, and have explored as a potential markers in maternal serum for pregnancy and placental pathologies, including miscarriage, Down's syndrome and pre-eclampsia. Finally, additional roles in immunomodulation at the materno-fetal interface, and in endometrial inflammatory events associated with menstruation and repair, are discussed.

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