Postpartum uterine involution in sheep: histoarchitecture and changes in endometrial gene expression. Academic Article uri icon


  • After parturition, the uterus undergoes marked remodelling during involution; however, little is known of the hormonal, cellular and molecular mechanisms that regulate this process. The working hypothesis used in this study is that return of the ovine uterus to a non-pregnant state involves termination of a hormonal servomechanism that regulates endometrial gland morphogenesis and function during pregnancy. Suffolk ewes were ovariohysterectomized on postpartum days 1, 7, 14 or 28. Serum concentrations of oestradiol were high at parturition, declined to postpartum day 4, peaked on postpartum day 6, and then declined and remained low thereafter. Progesterone was undetectable in plasma from ewes post partum. Uterine wet mass and horn length decreased after postpartum day 1, but ovarian mass did not change. Residual placental cotyledons were present in the maternal caruncles on postpartum days 1 and 7 and were extruded by postpartum day 14 as plaques that were resorbed by postpartum day 28. The width of the total endometrium, stratum compactum, stratum spongiosum and myometrium, as well as endometrial gland density, decreased after parturition. Most apoptotic cells in the involuting uterus were large, vacuolated and located between the endometrial glandular epithelial cells on postpartum days 1 and 7. Immunofluorescence analyses identified both T and B cells within the glandular epithelium on postpartum day 1. Cell proliferation was detected in the luminal epithelium and glandular epithelium on postpartum days 1 and 7. On postpartum day 1, expression of oestrogen receptor alpha (ERalpha) was not detected in luminal epithelium and was low in glandular epithelium, but ERalpha was present in epithelia thereafter. Progesterone receptor (PR) protein was not detected in endometrial epithelia on postpartum day 1, but was detected in the glandular epithelium thereafter. Between postpartum days 1 and 7, ERalpha and PR protein increased substantially in the endometrial glandular epithelium. On postpartum days 1-28, abundant expression of oxytocin receptor mRNA was detected in endometrial luminal epithelium and superficial to the middle glandular epithelium. Prolactin receptor (PRLR) mRNA was detected in glandular epithelium on all postpartum days, whereas mRNA for uterine milk protein (UTMP), an index of secretory capacity of glandular epithelium, was present only on postpartum day 1. Collectively, these results indicate that uterine involution in ewes involves remodelling of both caruncular and intercaruncular areas of the uterine wall and termination of differentiated uterine gland functions characteristic of pregnancy.

published proceedings

  • Reproduction

author list (cited authors)

  • Gray, C. A., Stewart, M. D., Johnson, G. A., & Spencer, T. E.

citation count

  • 20

complete list of authors

  • Gray, CA||Stewart, MD||Johnson, GA||Spencer, TE

publication date

  • February 2003