During pregnancy, up-regulation of heparin-binding (HB-) EGF and cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) in the uterine epithelium contributes to decidualization, a series of uterine morphological changes required for placental formation and fetal development. Here, we report a key role for the lipid mediator lysophosphatidic acid (LPA) in decidualization, acting through its G-protein-coupled receptor LPA3 in the uterine epithelium. Knockout of Lpar3 or inhibition of the LPA-producing enzyme autotaxin (ATX) in pregnant mice leads to HB-EGF and COX-2 down-regulation near embryos and attenuates decidual reactions. Conversely, selective pharmacological activation of LPA3 induces decidualization via up-regulation of HB-EGF and COX-2. ATX and its substrate lysophosphatidylcholine can be detected in the uterine epithelium and in pre-implantation-stage embryos, respectively. Our results indicate that ATX–LPA–LPA3 signaling at the embryo-epithelial boundary induces decidualization via the canonical HB-EGF and COX-2 pathways.
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