The Wilm's tumor suppressor gene (WT1) encodes a zinc-finger containing transcription factor that is selectively expressed in the developing urogenital tract, where it is thought to play a role in the differentiation of these tissues. We have used immunocytochemistry and in situ hybridization to study WT1 expression in the rat uterus during normal development and pregnancy from 0 to 20 days post coitum (p.c.). WT1 mRNA was abundant in uterine stroma from juvenile rats, but was much less abundant in uterine tissue from sexually mature rats; WT1 expression is not affected by ovariectomy or by treatment with estradiol or estradiol plus progesterone. WT1 gene was highly expressed, however, in the endometrial cells of early pregnancy. On day 6 p.c. WT1 mRNA was detected in anti-mesometrial decidual cells, and WT1 immunoreactivity was concentrated in the nuclei of these cells. All cells of fully-developed deciduoma at 7-8 days p.c. demonstrated WT1 expression. WT1 was not detected in trophoblast/placental tissues but remained abundant in the decidua basalis until parturition. The expression of WT1 was compared with insulin-like growth factor-II (IGF-II) and its receptor in the decidual since it has been shown that IGF-II gene transcription is repressed by WT1 in vitro. However, no spatiotemporal correlation in the expression of these three genes was found in differentiation of the rat decidua. In summary, these data suggest a role for WT1 in decidualization, since its expression is activated during the differentiation of uterine stromal cells into decidual cells.
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