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Background: Decidualization (differentiation) of the endometrial stromal cells during the secretory phase of the menstrual cycle is essential for successful implantation. Transforming Growth Factor beta 1 (TGF beta 1) canonically propagates its actions via SMAD signalling. A role for TGF beta 1 in decidualization remains to be established and published data concerning effects of TGF beta 1 on markers of endometrial decidualization are inconsistent.
Methodology/Principal Findings: Non-pregnant endometrial stromal cells (ESC) and first trimester decidual stromal cells (DSC) were cultured in the presence or absence of a decidualizing stimulus. Incubation of ESCs with TGF beta 1 (10 ng/ml) down-regulated the expression of transcripts encoding the decidual marker proteins prolactin (PRL), insulin-like growth factor binding protein-1 (IGFBP-1) and tissue factor (TF). TGF beta 1 also inhibited secretion of PRL and IGFBP-1 proteins by ESCs and surprisingly this response preceded down-regulation of their mRNAs. In contrast, DSCs were more refractory to the actions of TGF beta 1, characterized by blunted and delayed down-regulation of PRL, IGFBP-1, and TF transcripts, which was not associated with a significant reduction in secretion of PRL or IGFBP-1 proteins. Addition of an antibody directed against TGF beta 1 increased expression of IGFBP-1 mRNA in decidualised cells. Knockdown of SMAD 4 using siRNAs abrogated the effect of TGF beta 1 on expression of PRL in ESCs but did not fully restore expression of IGFBP-1 mRNA and protein.
Conclusions/Significance: TGF beta 1 inhibits the expression and secretion of decidual marker proteins. The impact of TGF beta 1 on PRL is SMAD-dependent but the impact on IGFBP1 is via an alternative mechanism. In early pregnancy, resistance of DSC to the impact of TGF beta 1 may be important to ensure tissue homeostasis.