During embryo implantation in species with hemochorial placentation, such as the mouse and human, trophoblast cells of the attached blastocyst penetrate the luminal epithelium of the endometrium before invasion into the endometrial stroma. Signs of apoptosis were demonstrated in luminal endometrial epithelial cells (EEC) adjacent to the trophoblast cells; however, the signaling mechanisms leading to apoptosis in EEC remain unclear. Because mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPK) were shown to mediate apoptosis in several model systems and found to be activated in the uterus during decidualization, the possible involvement of MAPK during trophoblast-EEC interactions was studied. By coculturing BeWo human trophoblast spheroids with RL95-2 human EEC monolayers to mimic the blastocyst-endometrial interaction, we found that most spheroids rapidly attached to EEC monolayers and then progressively expanded, with marked dislodgment of EEC adjacent to the spreading trophoblast cells. Immunoblotting analysis showed that both p38 MAPK and extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) were activated in EEC after coculture. However, only SB203580 (a p38 MAPK inhibitor), but not PD98059 (an ERK inhibitor), inhibited trophoblast outgrowth on EEC monolayers through the suppression of p38 MAPK activation in EEC. Furthermore, trophoblast expansion caused prominent EEC apoptosis at the spheroid-EEC interface, as detected by annexin V labeling and valyl-alanyl-aspartyl-[O-methyl]-fluoromethylketone (which binds activated caspases) staining, and SB203580 significantly decreased the percentage of apoptotic cells. Our results, based on a model of human trophoblast-EEC interactions, establish that trophoblast cells cause activation of p38 MAPK in EEC and, consequently, induce apoptosis and displacement of EEC, a process that may facilitate implantation.
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