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PLoS Genet. 2015 Aug 25;11(8):e1005458. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1005458. eCollection 2015 Aug.

Rac1 Regulates Endometrial Secretory Function to Control Placental Development.

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Department of Comparative Biosciences, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, Illinois, United States of America.
Department of Molecular and Integrative Physiology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, Illinois, United States of America.
Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Wake Forest School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, United States of America.


During placenta development, a succession of complex molecular and cellular interactions between the maternal endometrium and the developing embryo ensures reproductive success. The precise mechanisms regulating this maternal-fetal crosstalk remain unknown. Our study revealed that the expression of Rac1, a member of the Rho family of GTPases, is markedly elevated in mouse decidua on days 7 and 8 of gestation. To investigate its function in the uterus, we created mice bearing a conditional deletion of the Rac1 gene in uterine stromal cells. Ablation of Rac1 did not affect the formation of the decidua but led to fetal loss in mid gestation accompanied by extensive hemorrhage. To gain insights into the molecular pathways affected by the loss of Rac1, we performed gene expression profiling which revealed that Rac1 signaling regulates the expression of Rab27b, another GTPase that plays a key role in targeting vesicular trafficking. Consequently, the Rac1-null decidual cells failed to secrete vascular endothelial growth factor A, which is a critical regulator of decidual angiogenesis, and insulin-like growth factor binding protein 4, which regulates the bioavailability of insulin-like growth factors that promote proliferation and differentiation of trophoblast cell lineages in the ectoplacental cone. The lack of secretion of these key factors by Rac1-null decidua gave rise to impaired angiogenesis and dysregulated proliferation of trophoblast cells, which in turn results in overexpansion of the trophoblast giant cell lineage and disorganized placenta development. Further experiments revealed that RAC1, the human ortholog of Rac1, regulates the secretory activity of human endometrial stromal cells during decidualization, supporting the concept that this signaling G protein plays a central and conserved role in controlling endometrial secretory function. This study provides unique insights into the molecular mechanisms regulating endometrial secretions that mediate stromal-endothelial and stromal-trophoblast crosstalk critical for placenta development and establishment of pregnancy.

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