The cell biology of blastocyst development

Mol Reprod Dev. 1992 Dec;33(4):492-504. doi: 10.1002/mrd.1080330417.


Preimplantation development encompasses the "free"-living period of mammalian embryogenesis, which culminates in the formation of a fluid-filled structure, the blastocyst. Cavitation (blastocyst formation) is accompanied by the expression of a novel set of gene products that contribute directly to the attainment of cell polarity with the trophectoderm, which is both the first epithelium of development and the outer cell layer encircling the inner cell mass of the blastocyst. Several of these gene products have been identified and include the tight junction (ZO-1), Na/K-ATPase (alpha and beta subunits), uvomorulin, gap junction (connexin43), and growth factors such as transforming growth factor-alpha (TGF-alpha) and epidermal growth factor (EGF). This review will examine the role(s) of each of these gene products during the onset and progression of blastocyst formation. The trophectodermal tight junctional permeability seal regulates the leakage of blastocoel fluid and also assists in the maintenance of a polarized Na/K-ATPase distribution to the basolateral plasma membrane domain of the mural trophectoderm. The polarized distribution of the Na/K-ATPase plays an integral role in the establishment of a trans-trophectoderm Na+ gradient, which drives the osmotic accumulation of water across the epithelium into the nascent blastocoelic cavity. The cell adhesion provided by uvomorulin is necessary for the establishment of the tight junctional seal, as well as the maintenance of the polarized Na/K-ATPase distribution. Growth factors such as TGF-alpha and EGF stimulate an increase in the rate of blastocoel expansion, which could, in part, be mediated by secondary messengers that result in an increase in Na/K-ATPase activity. Insight into the mechanism of cavitation has, therefore, directly linked blastocyst formation to trophectoderm cell differentiation, which arises through fundamental cell biological processes that are directly involved in the attainment of epithelial cell polarity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Blastocyst / cytology*
  • Blastocyst / physiology
  • Embryonic and Fetal Development / genetics
  • Embryonic and Fetal Development / physiology*
  • Female
  • Gene Expression
  • Growth Substances / physiology
  • Humans
  • Ion Transport
  • Models, Biological
  • Pregnancy
  • Sodium-Potassium-Exchanging ATPase / genetics
  • Sodium-Potassium-Exchanging ATPase / metabolism


  • Growth Substances
  • Sodium-Potassium-Exchanging ATPase