Conventional and modern markers of endometrial receptivity: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Hum Reprod Update. 2019 Mar 1;25(2):202-223. doi: 10.1093/humupd/dmy044.


Background: Early reproductive failure is the most common complication of pregnancy with only 30% of conceptions reaching live birth. Establishing a successful pregnancy depends upon implantation, a complex process involving interactions between the endometrium and the blastocyst. It is estimated that embryos account for one-third of implantation failures, while suboptimal endometrial receptivity and altered embryo-endometrial dialogue are responsible for the remaining two-thirds. Endometrial receptivity has been the focus of extensive research for over 80 years, leading to an indepth understanding of the processes associated with embryo-endometrial cross-talk and implantation. However, little progress has been achieved to translate this understanding into clinically meaningful prognostic tests and treatments for suboptimal endometrial receptivity.

Objective and rationale: The objective of this systematic review was to examine the evidence from observational studies supporting the use of endometrial receptivity markers as prognostic factors for pregnancy outcome in women wishing to conceive, in order to aid clinicians in choosing the most useful marker in clinical practice and for informing further research.

Search methods: The review protocol was registered with PROSPERO (CRD42017077891). MEDLINE and Embase were searched for observational studies published from inception until 26 February 2018. We included studies that measured potential markers of endometrial receptivity prior to pregnancy attempts and reported the subsequent pregnancy outcomes. We performed association and accuracy analyses using clinical pregnancy as an outcome to reflect the presence of receptive endometrium. The Newcastle-Ottawa scale for observational studies was employed to assess the quality of the included studies.

Outcomes: We included 163 studies (88 834 women) of moderate overall quality in the narrative synthesis, out of which 96 were included in the meta-analyses. Studies reported on various endometrial receptivity markers evaluated by ultrasound, endometrial biopsy, endometrial fluid aspirate and hysteroscopy in the context of natural conception, IUI and IVF. Associations were identified between clinical pregnancy and various endometrial receptivity markers (endometrial thickness, endometrial pattern, Doppler indices, endometrial wave-like activity and various molecules); however, their poor ability to predict clinical pregnancy prevents them from being used in clinical practice. Results from several modern molecular tests are promising and further data are awaited.

Wider implications: The post-test probabilities from our analyses may be used in clinical practice to manage couples' expectations during fertility treatments (IUI and IVF). Conventionally, endometrial receptivity is seen as a dichotomous outcome (present or absent), but we propose that various levels of endometrial receptivity exist within the window of implantation. For instance, different transcriptomic signatures could represent varying levels of endometrial receptivity, which can be linked to different pregnancy outcomes. Many studies reported the means of a particular biomarker in those who achieved a pregnancy compared with those who did not. However, extreme values of a biomarker (as opposite to the means) may have significant prognostic and diagnostic implications that are not captured in the means. Therefore, we suggest reporting the outcomes by categories of biomarker levels rather than reporting means of biomarker levels within clinical outcome groups.

Keywords: IUI; IVF; clinical pregnancy; endometrial biopsy; endometrial fluid aspirate; endometrial receptivity; hysteroscopy; ultrasound; window of implantation.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers
  • Embryo Implantation / physiology*
  • Endometrium / physiology*
  • Female
  • Fertility / physiology
  • Fertilization in Vitro / methods*
  • Humans
  • Hysteroscopy
  • Live Birth*
  • Observational Studies as Topic
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy, Multiple


  • Biomarkers