To assess in vivo the postulated participation of urokinase-type (u-PA) and tissue-type (t-PA) plasminogen activators in processes involving tissue remodeling and cell migration, we have studied the cellular distribution of u-PA and t-PA mRNAs during mouse oogenesis and embryo implantation. By in situ hybridizations, we detected t-PA mRNA in oocytes and u-PA mRNA in granulosa and thecal cells from preovulatory follicles. These findings are compatible with a role for plasminogen activators in oogenesis and follicular disruption. We demonstrated the presence of u-PA mRNA in the invasive and migrating trophoblast cells of 5.5- and 6.5-d-old embryos. At 7.5 days, u-PA mRNA was predominantly localized to trophoblast cells that had reached the deep layers of the uterine wall, while the peripheral trophoblast cells surrounding the presomite stage embryo were devoid of specific signal. In 8.5-d-old embryos abundant u-PA mRNA expression resumed transiently in the giant trophoblast cells at the periphery of the embryo and in the trophoblast cells of the ectoplacental cone, to become undetectable in 10.5-d-old embryos. These observations establish the in vivo expression of the u-PA gene by invading and migrating trophoblast cells in a biphasic time pattern; they are in agreement with the proposed involvement of the enzyme in the extracellular proteolysis accompanying embryo implantation.

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