We have investigated plasmin mediated proteolysis associated with trophoblast invasion during early stages of pregnancy in the rhesus monkey. In situ hybridization and immunocytochemical localization were used to define the cellular and tissue distribution of urokinase plasminogen activator (uPA), plasminogen activator inhibitor type 1 (PAI-1) and 2 (PAI-2) and urokinase receptor in early monkey placenta and uterus. Our results indicate: (1) uPA is expressed in proliferating and invasive cytotrophoblast located in chorionic villi as well as in extravillous trophoblast associated with uterine arterioles. This raises the possibility that urokinase may play an important role in trophoblast invasion. (2) PAI-1 mRNA is specifically localized in two areas where invasive trophoblast cells encounter maternal tissue directly. The extravillous cytotrophoblast cells at the maternofetal junction express PAI-1 mRNA. The invasive endovascular trophoblast cells within the uterine arterioles also express PAI-1 mRNA. The location sensitive expression of PAI-1 mRNA at the maternofetal junction may imply a protective function of this protease inhibitor that might be induced through interaction with decidual cells. (3) Urokinase receptor antigen has also been found at the maternofetal junction and in endovascular trophoblast cells of the invaded maternal blood vessel. (4) PAI-2 immunoreactivity is found in association with cytotrophoblast cells in anchoring choronic villi suggesting its association with early placentation. In conclusion, we propose that the plasmin/plasminogen activator system may not only regulate extracellular matrix degradation, but also modify migration and invasive behaviour of extravillous trophoblast cells, during early placentation.
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