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Mol Hum Reprod. 2010 Dec;16(12):886-95. doi: 10.1093/molehr/gaq079. Epub 2010 Sep 16.

The molecular basis of recurrent pregnancy loss: impaired natural embryo selection.

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  • 1Department of Reproductive Medicine and Gynaecology, University Medical Center Utrecht, PO Box 85500, 3508 GA Utrecht, The Netherlands.


Recurrent pregnancy loss (RPL) is a common and distressing disorder. Chromosomal errors in the embryo are the single most common cause, whereas uterine factors are invariably invoked to explain non-chromosomal miscarriages. These uterine factors are, however, poorly defined. The ability of a conceptus to implant in the endometrium is normally restricted to a few days in the menstrual cycle. A limited 'window of implantation' ensures coordinated embryonic and endometrial development, thereby minimizing the risk of late implantation of compromised embryos. In this paper, we review emerging evidence, indicating that RPL is associated with impaired differentiation of endometrial stromal cells into specialized decidual cells. From a functional perspective, this differentiation process, termed decidualization, is not only critical for placental development but also signals the end of the implantation window and bestows on the endometrium the ability to recognize, respond to and eliminate implanting compromised embryos. Thus, we propose that spontaneous decidualization of the human endometrium, which inevitably causes menstrual shedding in the absence of a viable conceptus, serves as functional 'window for natural embryo selection'. Conversely, impaired decidualization predisposes to late implantation, negates embryo quality control and causes early placental failure, regardless of the embryonic karyotype. This pathological pathway also explains the common observation that many RPL patients seem exceptionally fertile, often conceiving within one or two cycles. Thus, as the clinical correlate of inappropriate uterine receptivity, 'superfertility' should be considered as a genuine reproductive disorder that requires targeted intervention.

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