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Immunohistochemical Localization And Expression Of The Hyaluronan Receptor CD44 In The Epithelium Of The Pig Oviduct During Oestrus

P Tienthai, M Yokoo, N Kimura, P Heldin, E Sato, H Rodriguez-Martinez

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Hyaluronan is related to essential reproductive processes in pigs. Hyaluronan produced by cumulus cells builds, via specific cell surface receptors, an extracellular matrix responsible for cumulus cell cloud expansion during final oocyte maturation, a preparatory event for ovulation and fertilization. In addition, hyaluronan that has been localized in the pig oviduct both in the intraluminal fluid and on the surface of the lining epithelium of the preovulatory sperm reservoir, has proven beneficial during in vitro fertilization and embryo culture, thus indicating that it has a role in vivo. This study monitored the immunolocalization, protein determination and gene expression of the major cell surface hyaluronan receptor CD44 in the epithelial lining of the pig oviduct during selected stages of standing oestrus, in relation to spontaneous ovulation. The CD44 immunostaining in the lining epithelium was localized to the surface membrane and the supranuclear domain of mainly the secretory cells, particularly in the sperm reservoir of both treatment (inseminated) and control (non-inseminated) specimens. Up to four hyaluronan-binding protein (HABP) bands (60, 90, 100 and 200 kDa) were detected in the tubal epithelium, and the 200 kDa band was determined as CD44 by immunoblotting. The expression of CD44 mRNA was higher before than after ovulation (P < 0.05), most conspicuously in the uterotubal junction (UTJ). In addition, CD44 expression in the preovulatory UTJ and the ampullary-isthmic junction (AIJ) of control animals was higher than in those that were inseminated (P < 0.05 and P < 0.01 for UTJ and AIJ, respectively). The results demonstrate for the first time that the specific hyaluronan receptor CD44 is expressed by the oviduct epithelial cells during spontaneous oestrus, and is particularly abundant in the sperm reservoir before ovulation. Presence of spermatozoa in this segment seemed to downregulate the receptor. The variation in the expression of CD44 in relation to spontaneous ovulation and the presence of spermatozoa indicate that the hyaluronan CD44-signalling pathway may play a role in oviduct function during sperm storage and fertilization in pigs.