The cell membrane-associated, polymorphic mucin, MUC1, has been proposed to hinder implantation by virtue of its anti-adhesive properties. Consistent with this proposal is the observation of a dramatic decrease in MUC1 protein and mRNA expression in the uterine epithelium of several species at the time of implantation. In contrast, little change in glandular epithelial expression of MUC1 protein or its mRNA during the peri-implantation period has been detected in humans. However, expression in the luminal epithelium, i.e. the epithelium involved in embryo attachment, has not been reported. Using tissue samples with a clearly defined luminal epithelium and antibodies directed against the cytoplasmic domain found in all cell-associated MUC1 species (CT-1) and against two MUC1 ectodomain epitopes, HMFG-1 and HMFG-2, we demonstrate that MUC1 expression in the luminal epithelium is maintained throughout the menstrual cycle. The staining observed with CT-1 correlates with that seen with HMFG-2, but not HMFG-1. HMFG-1 reactivity was high in all regions except basal glands in the mid proliferative endometrium and fell to very low levels throughout the tissue in the mid secretory phase. In all cases, HMFG-1 reactivity could be restored by predigestion with keratanase or neuraminidase which removes keratan sulphates and sialic acids, respectively. These observations suggest that regionally restricted glycosylation generates an altered external structure of MUC1. These alterations appear to decrease accessibility to the MUC1 protein core region and are maximal in luminal epithelium at the receptive phase. Due to their large highly extended structures, MUC1 ectodomains are very likely to be among the first cell surface components encountered during human blastocyst attachment to the luminal epithelium. Thus, MUC1 either must be locally removed during the attachment process or functions actually to promote the initial steps in embryo adhesion to the apical surface of the human uterine epithelium.
Copyright (C) 1998, European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology
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