The distribution of the extracellular matrix protein thrombospondin (TSP) in cleavage to egg cylinder staged mouse embryos and its role in trophoblast outgrowth from cultured blastocysts were examined. TSP was present within the cytoplasm of unfertilized eggs; in fertilized one- to four-cell embryos; by the eight-cell stage, TSP was also densely deposited at cell-cell borders. In the blastocyst, although TSP was present in all three cell types; trophectoderm, endoderm, and inner cell mass (ICM), it was enriched in the ICM and at the surface of trophectoderm cells. Hatched blastocysts grown on matrix-coated coverslips formed extensive trophoblast outgrowths on TSP, grew slightly less avidly on laminin, or on a 140-kD fragment of TSP containing its COOH terminus and putative cell binding domains. There was little outgrowth on the NH2 terminus heparin-binding domain. Addition of anti-TSP antibodies (but not GRGDS) to blastocysts growing on TSP strikingly inhibited outgrowth. Consistent with its early appearance and presence in trophoblast cells during implantation, TSP may play an important role in the early events involved in mammalian embryogenesis.

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