Conceptus signals for establishment and maintenance of pregnancy.
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Establishment and maintenance of pregnancy results from signaling by the conceptus (embryo/fetus and associated extraembryonic membranes) and requires progesterone produced by the corpus luteum. In most mammals, hormones produced by the trophoblast maintain progesterone production by acting directly or indirectly to maintain the corpus luteum. In domestic animals (ruminants and pigs), hormones from the trophoblast are antiluteolytic in that they act on the endometrium to prevent uterine release of luteolytic prostaglandin F2alpha. In cyclic and pregnant sheep, progesterone negatively autoregulates progesterone receptor gene expression in the endometrial luminal and superficial glandular epithelium. In cyclic sheep, loss of the progesterone receptor is closely followed by increases in epithelial estrogen receptors and then oxytocin receptors, allowing oxytocin to induce uterine release of luteolytic prostaglandin F2alpha pulses. In pregnant sheep, the conceptus trophoblast produces interferon tau that acts on the endometrium to inhibit transcription of the estrogen receptor alpha gene directly and the oxytocin receptor gene indirectly to abrogate development of the endometrial luteolytic mechanism. Subsequently, sequential, overlapping actions of progesterone, interferon tau, placental lactogen, and growth hormone comprise a hormonal servomechanism that regulates endometrial gland morphogenesis and terminal differentiated function to maintain pregnancy in sheep. In pigs, the conceptus trophoblast produces estrogen that alters the direction of prostaglandin F2alpha secretion from an endocrine to exocrine direction, thereby sequestering luteolytic prostaglandin F2alpha within the uterine lumen. Conceptus estrogen also increases expression of fibroblast growth factor 7 in the endometrial lumenal epithelium that, in turn, stimulates proliferation and differentiated functions of the trophectoderm, which expresses the fibroblast growth factor 7 receptor. Strategic manipulation of these physiological mechanisms may improve uterine capacity, conceptus survival, and reproductive health.