During pregnancy, the uterus shows marked morphological and physiological changes under the regulation of ovarian steroid. To elucidate the molecular cues of these changes, we tried to identify the transcripts differentially expressed in the pregnant rat uterus by using the suppression subtractive hybridization method. Seven independent clones were isolated and one of the up-regulated genes was secreted frizzled-related protein 4 (sFRP4). sFRP4 contains a Wnt-binding domain and belongs to the secreted frizzled protein family whose members are assumed to function as modulators of the Wnt signal. The expression level of sFRP4 mRNA reached a peak in the pregnant uterus on day 12, when uterine decidualization was almost complete in the rat. In situ hybridization histochemistry revealed that sFRP4 transcripts were observed in the decidual cells. In addition, proliferating cell nuclear antigen (PCNA)-positive cells were shown to be overlapped in decidua, suggesting that sFRP4 mRNA expression was accompanied by the late phase of decidual cell proliferation. Moreover, sFRP4 and estrogen receptor-α transcripts were co-localized. Furthermore, we analyzed the regulation of sFRP4 by estrogen using 17β-estradiol-treated ovariectomized rats. sFRP4 mRNA was detected in the uterus at 48 h after estrogen treatment, especially in endometrial stroma where PCNA-positive cells were also observed. The results in this study led us to the notion that sFRP4 mRNA may be up-regulated after estrogen treatment in the late phase of uterine cell proliferation.
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