While constructing a catalog of mouse cDNAs which are expressed in the maternal-fetal interface during the peri-implantation period, we encountered a 1.6 kb cDNA clone showing a strong sequence similarity to the 3' untranslated region of the human dystroglycan gene. We cloned an additional 1.7 kb cDNA by reverse transcriptase-PCR (RT-PCR) and confirmed that this is a true mouse homolog of human dystroglycan cDNA by sequence analyses, Southern blotting, and genetic mapping of this gene on the distal region of mouse chromosome 9. Although it is well established that dystroglycan, a transmembrane protein, plays an important role in muscle tissues by bridging intracellular dystrophin to the laminin in the extracellular matrix, its role in non-muscle tissues remains elusive. To further investigate the role of the dystroglycan gene at the peri-implantation stage, we analyzed the expression patterns of this gene by in situ hybridization, which revealed that this gene is specifically expressed in decidual cells, especially in the cells surrounding the implantation site at 6.5, 7.5, and 8.5 day post conception (p.c.) stages, but not expressed in non-pregnant endometrial cells of uterus nor in the decidua at 12.5 day p.c. Further analyses by RT-PCR confirmed that the amount of dystroglycan mRNA in 8.5 day p.c. decidua was indeed 100-fold higher than that of non-pregnant uterus and 12.5 day p.c. mature placenta. These results suggest that dystroglycan may work as a mediator for adhesion between decidual cells themselves or between decidual cells and trophoblast cells, and provide a structural and functional support for maintaining pregnancy at its early stage.
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