Epithelial cadherin disassociates from the lateral plasma membrane of uterine epithelial cells throughout pregnancy in a marsupial

Jessica S. Dudley*, Christopher R. Murphy, Michael B. Thompson, Bronwyn M. McAllan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


The uterine luminal epithelium is the first site of contact between fetal and maternal tissues during therian pregnancy and must undergo specialised changes for implantation of the blastocyst to be successful. These changes, collectively termed the plasma membrane transformation (PMT), allow the blastocyst to attach to the uterine epithelium preceding the formation of a placenta. There are similarities in the morphological and molecular changes occurring in live-bearing eutherian species during the PMT studied so far. Similar cellular remodelling occurs in a marsupial species, the fat-tailed dunnart (Sminthopsis crassicaudata), despite the divergence of marsupials from eutherian mammals over 130 mya, which resulted in the evolution of distinct reproductive strategies. Adhesion molecules along the lateral plasma membrane of uterine epithelium provide a barrier to invasion by the embryo. We thus characterised the presence and change in distribution of epithelial cadherin (E-cadherin) in uterine epithelium from non-pregnant fat-tailed dunnarts and compared it to dunnarts in early-, mid- and late-stage pregnancy. E-cadherin staining is localised to the lateral plasma membrane in uterine epithelium from non-pregnant and early-stage pregnant dunnarts. The E-cadherin staining is cytoplasmic in epithelium from uteri of mid- and late-stage pregnant dunnarts. This loss of localised staining suggests that the adherens junction dissociates from the lateral plasma membrane, allowing for invasion between the epithelial cells by the blastocyst. As the changes during pregnancy to cadherin were similar in the laboratory rat with highly invasive (haemochorial) placentation, a live-bearing lizard species with non-invasive (epitheliochorial) placentation and a marsupial, the fat-tailed dunnart, which has invasive (endotheliochorial) placentation, we suggest that the molecular mechanisms allowing for successful pregnancy are conserved among mammals during the early stages of pregnancy regardless of placental invasiveness.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)359-365
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Anatomy
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • adherens junction
  • epithelial cadherin
  • marsupial
  • Sminthopsis crassicaudata
  • uterine epithelium


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