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J Ovarian Res. 2018 Sep 21;11(1):83. doi: 10.1186/s13048-018-0454-4.

Gonadotropin and steroid hormones regulate pluripotent very small embryonic-like stem cells in adult mouse uterine endometrium.

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Stem Cell Biology Department, ICMR - National Institute for Research in Reproductive Health, Jehangir Merwanji Street, Parel, Mumbai, 400 012, India.
Stem Cell Biology Department, ICMR - National Institute for Research in Reproductive Health, Jehangir Merwanji Street, Parel, Mumbai, 400 012, India.



Very small embryonic-like stem cells (VSELs) exist in adult organs, express pluripotent markers and have the ability to differentiate into three germ layers in vitro. Testicular, ovarian and hematopoietic stem/progenitor cells express receptors for follicle stimulating (FSH) and ovarian hormones and are activated by them to undergo proliferation/differentiation. VSELs exist in mouse uterus and are regulated by physiological dose of estradiol (E) & progesterone (P) during endometrial growth, differentiation and regeneration/remodeling. In the present study, effects of daily administration of E (2 μg/day), P (1 mg/Kg/day) or FSH (5 IU/day) for 7 days on the endometrium and stem/progenitor cells was studied in bilaterally ovariectomized mice.


E treatment resulted in hypertrophy whereas P resulted in hyperplasia and overcrowding of epithelial cells. FSH also directly stimulated the endometrial cells. Nuclear OCT-4A positive VSELs were visualized in ovariectomized (atrophied) endometrium and cytoplasmic OCT-4B positive epithelial, stromal and endothelial cells were observed after treatment. FSH treated uterine tissue showed presence of 4 alternately spliced FSHR isoforms by Western blotting. 3-5 μm VSELs with a surface phenotype of LIN-/CD45-/SCA-1+ were enumerated by flow cytometry and were found to express ER, PR, FSHR1 and FSHR3 by RT-PCR analysis. Differential effects of treatment were observed on pluripotent (Oct4A, Sox2, Nanog), progenitors (Oct-4, Sca-1), primordial germ cells (Stella, Fragilis) and proliferation (Pcna) specific transcripts by qRT-PCR analysis. FSH and P (rather than E) exerted profound, direct stimulatory effects on uterine VSELs. Asymmetric, symmetric divisions and clonal expansion of stem/progenitor cells was confirmed by co-expression of OCT-4 and NUMB.


Results confirm presence of VSELs and their regulation by circulatory hormones in mouse uterus. Stem cell activation was more prominent after P and FSH compared to E treatment. The results question whether epithelial cells proliferation is regulated by paracrine influence of stromal cells or due to direct action of hormones on stem cells. VSELs expressing nuclear OCT-4A are the most primitive and pluripotent stem cells, undergo asymmetric cell division to self-renew and differentiate into epithelial, stromal and endothelial cells with cytoplasmic OCT-4B. Role of follicle stimulating and steroid hormones on the stem cells needs to be studied in various uterine pathologies.


Endometrium; Estrogen; FSH; OCT-4; Progesterone; Stem cells; VSELs

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