Regulation of the PI3K/Akt pathway during decidualization of endometrial stromal cells

PLoS One. 2017 May 5;12(5):e0177387. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0177387. eCollection 2017.


Infertility is constantly increasing in Canada, where 16% of Canadian couples are experiencing difficulty conceiving. It is thought that infertility can emanate from the dysregulated communication between the embryo and the maternal endometrium. In order to allow for this window of implantation to be open at the right moment, endometrial stromal cells proliferate and differentiate by a mechanism called decidualization. Intracellular and molecular mechanisms involved in the regulation of apoptosis and cell proliferation during decidualization of the endometrium are yet to be fully understood. It has been well demonstrated previously that Akt is importantly involved in cell survival and glycogen synthesis. Akt1, Akt2 and Akt3 isoforms have distinct physiological roles; this could also be the case during decidualization and pregnancy. The aim of this study is to investigate the regulation of PI3K/Akt pathway during the decidualization process of endometrial stromal cells. Expression of Akt isoforms, Akt activity (phospho-Akt), pIκB and substrates of Akt during decidualization were measured. To our knowledge, these results are the first to suggest a decrease in levels of Akt isoforms as well as a downregulation of Akt activity in the process of decidualization of human endometrial stromal cells. We also uncovered that decidualization induced nuclear localization of p65 through the phosphorylation of IκB, its inhibitory subunit; however, Par-4, a recently uncovered regulator of cell differentiation, was displaced from the nucleus upon decidualization. Our results also suggest that HIESC cells exhibit decreased motility during decidualization and that PI3K pathway inhibition could be involved in this process. Finally, we demonstrate that specific Akt isoforms present unique effects on the successful induction of decidualization. Further analyses will involve investigations to understand the precise signaling mechanisms by which this pathway is regulated.

MeSH terms

  • Cell Line
  • Cell Survival / physiology
  • Endometrium / cytology
  • Endometrium / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Phosphatidylinositol 3-Kinases / metabolism*
  • Phosphorylation
  • Prolactin / metabolism
  • Proteasome Endopeptidase Complex / metabolism
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction / physiology*
  • Stromal Cells / cytology
  • Stromal Cells / metabolism*


  • Prolactin
  • Phosphatidylinositol 3-Kinases
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt
  • Proteasome Endopeptidase Complex

Grant support

This work was supported by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) (238501-01). The funder had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.