During implantation the embryo attaches to the endometrial surface and trophoblast traverses the uterine epithelium, anchoring in the uterine connective tissue. To determine whether trophoblast can facilitate invasion of the uterus by degrading components of normal uterine extracellular matrix, mouse blastocysts were cultured on a radio-labeled extracellular matrix that contained glycoproteins, elastin, and collagen. The embryos attached to the matrix, and trophoblast spread over the surface. Starting on day 5 of culture there was a release of labeled peptides into the medium. The radioactive peptides released from the matrix by the embryos had molecular weights ranging from more than 25,000 to more than 200. By day 7 there were areas where individual trophoblast cells had separated from one another, revealing the underlying substratum that was cleared of matrix. When trophoblast cells were lysed with NH(4)OH on day 8, it was apparent that the area underneath the trophoblast outgrowth had been cleared of matrix. Scanning electron microscopy and time-lapse cinemicrography confirmed that the digestion of matrix was highly localized, taking place only underneath the trophoblast, with no evidence of digestion of the matrix beyond the periphery of the trophoblast outgrowth. The sharp boundaries of degredation observed may be due to localized proteinase secretion by trophoblast, to membrane proteinases on the surface of trophoblast, or to endocytosis. Digestion of the matrix was not dependent on plasminogen, thus ruling out a role for plasminogen activator. Digestion was not inhibited by a variety of hormones and inhibitors, including progesterone, 17β-estradiol, leupeptin, EDTA, colchicine, NH(4)Cl, or ε-aminocaproic acid. This system of culturing embryos on extracellular matrix may be useful in determining the processes that regulate trophoblast migration and invasion into the maternal tissues during implantation.0