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ST Leung, TS Reynolds and DC Wathes

The hormonal regulation of uterine oxytocin receptors (OTR) during the establishment of pregnancy and at parturition has been studied extensively, but little information is available during mid-pregnancy. This study investigated the localisation of OTR mRNA in the ovine placentome throughout gestation and related this to expression patterns for the putative regulatory agents aromatase, oestradiol receptor, progesterone receptor and oxytocin. Placentomes were collected at regular intervals throughout pregnancy for in situ hybridisation analysis and immunocytochemistry (oestradiol receptor only). Results were quantified by optical density measurements of autoradiographs. Progesterone receptor mRNA was localised to the caruncular tissues on day 30 but became undetectable by day 34. Aromatase mRNA appeared in the fetal villi at days 34-40, with concentrations peaking at days 52-55 and again at days 132-137. Oestradiol receptor mRNA was localised to the caruncular tissues from days 13 to 30 and found in the maternal villi and placentome capsule from days 45 to 70. Oestradiol receptor protein was barely detectable in either tissue. OTR mRNA was localised to the placentome capsule at days 34-40, remaining high at day 45 and declining to basal levels by days 132-137. Oxytocin mRNA was not detected in the placentome. In conclusion: (1) progesterone acting via its receptor may suppress the expression of aromatase and OTR in early pregnancy; (2) the up-regulation of OTR expression in the capsule may not involve the oestradiol receptor; (3) there is a differential regulation between different regions of the uterus as the increase in the placentome capsule occurs at a time when concentrations in the rest of the endometrium and myometrium remain low; (4) oestradiol receptor expression in the placentome may be regulated at the translational level; and (5) there is no local production of oxytocin in the sheep placenta. The role of ORTs in the capsule during mid-pregnancy remains to be determined.

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J. J. Evans and K. J. Catt


Neurohypophysial hormones stimulate gonadotrophin release from dispersed rat anterior pituitary cells in vitro, acting through receptors distinct from those which mediate the secretory response to gonadotrophin-releasing hormone (GnRH). The LH response to oxytocin was not affected by the presence of the phosphodiesterase inhibitor, methyl isobutylxanthine, but was diminished in the absence of extracellular calcium and was progressively increased as the calcium concentration in the medium was raised to normal. In addition, the calcium channel antagonist, nifedipine, suppressed oxytocin-stimulated secretion of LH. It is likely that the mechanisms of LH release induced by GnRH and neurohypophysial hormones are similar, although stimulation of gonadotrophin secretion is mediated by separate receptor systems. Oxytocin was more active than vasopressin in releasing LH, but less active in releasing ACTH. The highly selective oxytocin agonist, [Thr4,Gly7]oxytocin, elicited concentration-dependent secretion of LH but had little effect on corticotrophin secretion. The neurohypophysial hormone antagonist analogues, [d(CH2)5Tyr(Me)2]-vasopressin, [d(CH2)5Tyr(Me)2,Orn8]vasotocin and [d(CH2)5 d-Tyr(Et)2Val4,Cit8]vasopressin, inhibited the LH response to both oxytocin and vasopressin. However, [d(CH2)5Tyr(Me)2]vasopressin was much less effective in inhibiting the ACTH response to the neurohypophysial hormones, and [d(CH2)5Tyr-(Me)2,Orn8]vasotocin and [d(CH2)5 d-Tyr(Et)2,Val4, Cit8]vasopressin exhibited no inhibitory activity against ACTH release. Thus, agonist and antagonist analogues of neurophypophysial hormones display divergent activities with regard to LH and ACTH responses, and the neuropeptide receptor mediating gonadotroph activation is clearly different from that on the corticotroph. Whereas the corticotroph receptor is a vasopressin-type receptor an oxytocin-type receptor is responsible for gonadotrophin release by neurohypophysial hormones.

Journal of Endocrinology (1989) 122, 107–116

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J. M. Wallace, P. J. Morgan, R. Helliwell, R. P. Aitken, M. Cheyne and L. M. Williams


The induction of ovulation in early post-partum ewes is associated with a high incidence of premature luteal regression which is independent of the suckling stimulus but dependent on the stage post partum. The aim of the present study was to determine whether oxytocin receptors are present on uterine endometrium early in the luteal phase and hence ascertain whether oxytocin-induced uterine prostaglandin F release is a possible mechanism involved in the premature regression of these post-partum corpora lutea. Ovarian and uterine tissues were collected on day 4 of the cycle in ewes induced to ovulate at either 21 or 35 days post partum (n = 4 per group). A further four cyclic ewes were similarly synchronized to ovulate and acted as controls. Corpora lutea from the 21-day post-partum group were significantly (P < 0·01) smaller, had a lower progesterone content and a reduced capacity to secrete progesterone in vitro than corpora lutea from 35-day post-partum or control ewes.

A highly specific oxytocin receptor ligand 125I-labelled d(CH2)5[Tyr(Me)2,Thr4,Tyr-NH2 9]-vasotocin was used to localize and characterize high affinity oxytocin receptors in uterine endometrium (dissociation constant 145 pmol/l). Oxytocin receptor concentrations in endometrium from ewes induced to ovulate at 21 days post partum were on average five-fold higher (P < 0·05) than in 35-day post-partum and control groups.

Journal of Endocrinology (1991) 128, 253–260

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D. C. Wathes and M. Hamon


Uterine tissue samples were collected from 47 ewes at various stages of the oestrous cycle and early pregnancy (until day 21) and during seasonal anoestrus. Cryostat sections were immunostained to determine the localization of oestradiol and progesterone receptors using specific monoclonal antibodies. Oxytocin receptors were localized by autoradiography in sections from the same ewes using the 125I-labelled oxytocin antagonist d(CH2)5[Tyr(Me)2,Thr4,Tyr-NH2 9]- vasotocin. Plasma progesterone measurements were made during the preceding cycle up to the time of slaughter.

Oestradiol receptor concentrations were maximal in all regions of the tract at oestrus. Immunostaining of the luminal epithelium, superficial glandular epithelium, stroma and myometrium decreased in the early luteal phase but was maintained for longer in the deep glands. Progesterone receptor immunostaining in the luminal epithelium and superficial glands developed in the early luteal phase (days 1–2) with a somewhat later appearance in the deep glands (days 5–7). Progesterone receptor concentrations in the stroma and myometrium also reached a maximum in the early luteal phase. Myometrial staining was clearly maintained throughout the luteal phase whereas stromal staining was variable between ewes. For both oestradiol and progesterone receptors no differences were apparent between pregnant and non-pregnant ewes between days 2 and 12, but pregnant ewes did not show the general increases in oestradiol receptor staining associated with luteolysis on days 14–15.

Oxytocin receptors first developed in the luminal epithelium of non-pregnant ewes on day 14 of the cycle and spread to the superficial glands, caruncular stroma, deep glands and myometrium at oestrus before decreasing in reverse order on days 1–2. Specific binding was not detectable on days 5–12 of the cycle or on days 14 or 21 of pregnancy. The appearance of oxytocin receptors in the luminal epithelium on day 14 preceded that of both the oestradiol and progesterone receptors in the epithelial cells and the fall in plasma progesterone. It was followed by the development of oestradiol and oxytocin receptors in the superficial glands, deep glands, caruncular stroma and myometrium, with the two receptor populations showing a significant positive association in these tissues. The loss of oxytocin receptors in all regions occurred as plasma progesterone levels were increasing, but the association between these two variables was only significant in the superficial glands. The development of progesterone receptors in different tissues could not be explained on the basis of either oestradiol receptor content or plasma progesterone. We conclude that all three receptor populations change in a dynamic manner during the oestrous cycle with variations both between days and between different uterine compartments. The complex pattern of receptor formation and loss suggests that, in addition to the circulating steroid hormone concentrations, local paracrine factors are likely to be involved in their regulation.

Journal of Endocrinology (1993) 138, 479–491

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T Murata, E Murata, CX Liu, K Narita, K Honda and T Higuchi

The present study was designed to investigate a possible role for ovarian steroids in the regulation of rat uterine oxytocin receptor (OTR) mRNA expression before labour. By using a competitive RT-PCR system, we have previously reported that parturition was associated with high levels of uterine OTR mRNA in all the animals examined. On the other hand, near term, some rats showed high OTR mRNA levels while others did not. We therefore examined the changes in OTR mRNA expression before and during prostaglandin F(2)(alpha) (PGF(2)(alpha))-induced parturition; a paradigm adopted to reduce the variation in the onset of parturition. Injection of PGF(2)(alpha) on day 18 of pregnancy significantly increased OTR mRNA expression in all the rats within 24 h of treatment, suggesting that the variation in OTR mRNA levels during spontaneous parturition may be due to the difference in the timing of the onset of parturition. The increase in OTR mRNA was significantly abolished by injection of the anti-oestrogen compound, tamoxifen. The stimulatory action of oestrogen on OTR mRNA expression was then examined in the presence or absence of ovarian factors. Pregnant rats were ovariectomized (OVX) or sham-operated on day 18 of pregnancy and either oestrogen or vehicle was administered 6 h after the surgical operation. Oestrogen increased OTR mRNA significantly in OVX rats 18 h after administration compared with sham-operated animals. Moreover, ovariectomy alone on day 18 of pregnancy increased OTR mRNA expression to a level which reached statistical significance 24 h after the operation. In addition, oestrogen treatment increased OTR mRNA levels in OVX virgin rats in which progesterone tubes were implanted for 1 week and removed 6 h before oestrogen injection. The stimulatory effect of oestrogen was not observed in rats in which the progesterone tubes were implanted for 1 week and not removed. These results suggest that the decline of progesterone is necessary for the expression of the stimulatory effects of oestrogen on uterine OTR mRNA.

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J. L. Vallet and G. E. Lamming


A series of experiments was performed to determine whether proteins produced by the sheep conceptus (oCSP) during the time of maternal recognition of pregnancy or bovine recombinant interferon α1-1 (brIFN) decrease oxytocin receptor concentrations in the endometrium of cyclic or ovariectomized progesterone-treated ewes. In experiment 1, cyclic ewes received intrauterine infusions of serum proteins (oSP), oCSP or brIFN on days 12, 13 and 14 of the oestrous cycle. Ewes then received an oxytocin challenge (1 μg in 0·9% NaCl), and blood samples were taken just before and every 10 min for 1 h after the challenge; these were measured for 13,14-dihydro-15-ketoprostaglandin F (PGFM), the stable metabolite of prostaglandin F. Endometrial oxytocin receptor concentrations were then measured. The oCSP and brIFN treatments suppressed both endometrial oxytocin receptor concentrations and oxytocin-induced increases in PGFM concentrations.

In experiment 2, ewes were ovariectomized and then pretreated with a fluorogestone acetate-releasing intravaginal device for 10 days followed by oestradiol (25 μg i.m. twice daily for 2 days). Ewes were then treated with progesterone (10 mg i.m. twice daily for 12 days). Ewes received intrauterine infusions of oSP, oCSP and brIFN on days 10, 11 and 12 of progesterone treatment. On the day after the last progesterone treatment, ewes were challenged with oxytocin and blood samples collected to measure PGFM. Endometrial oxytocin receptors were also measured. Treatment with oCSP, but not brIFN, suppressed endometrial concentrations of oxytocin receptor, and neither oCSP nor brIFN altered oxytocin-induced increases in PGFM concentrations.

In experiment 3, ewes were ovariectomized and pretreated as in experiment 2 and then received progesterone treatment for 6, 8, 10 or 30 days. On the day after the last progesterone treatment, ewes received an oxytocin challenge and blood samples and endometrium were collected as in experiment 1. Endometrial oxytocin receptors increased sharply between days 8 and 10 and remained raised after 30 days of progesterone treatment. Oxytocin-induced PGFM increased between 8 and 10 days of progesterone treatment, but no response to oxytocin was detected after 30 of progesterone treatment.

In experiment 4, ewes were pretreated as in experiment 2 and then treated for 10 days with progesterone and received intrauterine infusions of oCSP, oSP or brIFN placebo control buffer on days 8, 9 and 10. Ewes received oxytocin and blood samples and endometrium were collected as in experiment 1. As in experiment 2, oCSP treatment suppressed oxytocin receptor concentrations but did not affect oxytocin-induced PGFM release.

In experiment 5, ewes were treated with steroid hormones as in experiment 4 and then received intrauterine infusions of either brIFN or oSP on days 8, 9 and 10 of progesterone treatment. The brIFN treatment suppressed oxytocin receptor concentrations but did not suppress oxytocin-induced increases in plasma PGFM.

We concluded from these experiments that (1) treatment of cyclic ewes with either oCSP or brIFN decreases endometrial oxytocin receptor concentrations and oxytocin-induced increases in PGFM and (2) in progesterone-treated ovariectomized ewes, treatment with oCSP and brIFN suppresses endometrial oxytocin receptor concentrations but does not suppress oxytocin-induced increases in PGFM.

Journal of Endocrinology (1991) 131, 475–482

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V. J. Ayad, S. E. F. Guldenaar and D. C. Wathes


Some of the binding characteristics of a novel oxytocin receptor ligand 125I-labelled [1-(β-mercapto-β, β-cyclopentamethylene propionic acid), 2-(ortho-methyl)-Tyr2,Thr4,Orn8,Tyr9-NH2]-vasotocin ([125I]OTA) have been determined in the sheep uterus. The compound was subsequently used for the autoradiographic localization of oxytocin receptors in the uterus and oviduct of the ewe.

Specific binding of [125I]OTA to crude membrane fractions of ovine endometrium was time-dependent and was unaffected by the addition of cations to incubation media. Endometrial membranes contained a single population of saturable, high-affinity binding sites for the iodinated ligand (dissociation constant (K d) 0·23±0·08 nmol/l) and unlabelled oxytocin competed with [125I]OTA for binding sites with high affinity (K d 1·29±0·4 nmol/l) in the presence of Mg2+ In contrast, unlabelled OTA was able to compete with high affinity (K d 1·13±0·16 nmol/l) in the absence of cation. Competition studies with a number of oxytocin analogues and related peptides and the tissue distribution of [125I]OTA binding sites also indicated that [125I]OTA bound to the ovine oxytocin receptor. This was further validated by autoradiographic studies which showed specific labelling with [125I]OTA to be greater to uterus and oviduct obtained from ewes which had been killed within 2 days of oestrus than to similar tissue from ewes killed during the luteal phase. In both the ampullary and isthmic regions of the oviduct and the myometrium, [125I]OTA binding sites were confined to smooth muscle. Endometrial binding sites for [125I]OTA were consistently located on the luminal epithelium and epithelial cells lining secretory glands. In addition, in one ewe which had been killed 2 days after cloprostenol treatment, stromal cells were labelled in a caruncular region of the endometrium. The consistency of this observation between similar animals remains to be determined.

The autoradiographic technique demonstrated appears sufficiently sensitive to allow further studies into the distribution of the endometrial oxytocin receptor throughout the oestrous cycle, and into its regulation at luteolysis and during the establishment of pregnancy.

Journal of Endocrinology (1991) 128, 187–195

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RS Robinson, GE Mann, GE Lamming and DC Wathes

The expression of oxytocin receptor (OTR) in the uterine endometrium plays an important role in the initiation of luteolysis. During early pregnancy, the conceptus secretes interferon tau (IFN|gt) which inhibits OTR up-regulation and luteolysis. In this study, uterine horn cross sections were collected on day 16 from 15 pregnant cows (PREG), 9 uninseminated controls and 5 inseminated cows with no embryo present. The latter two groups had similar results and were combined to form a single non-pregnant (NP) group. The animals were given an oxytocin challenge shortly before tissue collection to assess prostaglandin F2alpha (PGF2alpha) release through the measurement of the metabolite 13,14-dihydro-15-keto PGF2alpha (PGFM). The mRNAs for OTR, oestrogen receptor (ER) and progesterone receptor (PR) were localised by in situ hybridisation. The results were quantified by optical density (OD) measurements from autoradiographs using image analysis. OTR protein was measured by autoradiography with iodinated oxytocin antagonist and ER and PR protein was detected by immunocytochemistry. The release of PGFM after the oxytocin challenge was significantly higher in the 14 NP cows (187%+/-15%) compared with the PREG group (131%+/-11%) (P<0.01). Low concentrations of OTR mRNA were localised to the luminal epithelium (LE) in 6 out of the 14 NP cows, of which 2 also expressed OTR protein, while OTR mRNA and protein were undetectable in all the pregnant animals. These results indicated that the sampling time coincided with the onset of the luteolytic mechanism in the NP cows. On day 16 ER mRNA was detectable in both the LE and glands of both PREG and NP animals. There were no differences in either ER mRNA or protein between NP and PREG samples. PR mRNA was moderately expressed in the caruncular stroma, with lower levels in the dense caruncular-like stroma and glands. There were no differences between PREG and NP animals. The expression of PR mRNA and protein in the deep glands was variable between animals. These results suggested that, in cows, the presence of an embryo suppressed the expression of OTR, but had no effect on the expression of the transcriptionally regulated ER on day 16.

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J. M. Wallace, M. G. Thompson, R. P. Aitken and M. A. Cheyne


Induction of ovulation early post partum in sheep is associated with a high incidence (30–40%) of premature luteolysis. The present study was designed to characterize oxytocin receptor levels, oxytocin-stimulated inositol phosphate (IP) turnover (second messenger) and oxytocin-stimulated prostaglandin F (PGF) release in the endometrium of post-partum ewes induced to ovulate 21 days after parturition and expected to exhibit a range of corpus luteal functions subsequently.

Ovulation was induced on day 21 post partum using a controlled internal drug release device and pregnant mare serum gonadotrophin, and uterine tissues were collected on days 5, 10 or 15 of the cycle (n = 4/day). A further 12 ewes whose interval from previous parturition exceeded 150 days were similarly treated and acted as controls. Measurement of daily peripheral progesterone concentrations revealed that while all control ewes exhibited normal luteal function, abnormal luteal function was evident in two, two and one post-partum ewes studied on days 5, 10 and 15 of the cycle respectively. Oxytocin receptor binding was detected (by receptor-binding assay and in-vitro autoradiography) in the endometrium and myometrium of post-partum ewes at all three stages of the oestrous cycle but only at day 15 in control ewes. To determine IP turnover, 100 mg caruncular endometrium was incubated in duplicate for 2·5 h with 10 μCi [3H]inositol and treated with 0 or 2 μmol oxytocin/l for 30 min, then [3H]inositol mono-, bis- and trisphosphates were quantified. Oxytocin stimulated total IPs in all day-5 and day-15 post-partum ewes, in three of four day-10 ewes and in all day-15 control ewes. Basal endometrial PGF release measured in triplicate (100 mg/well) during a 2 h incubation was higher in post-partum versus control ewes on days 5 and 10 but not on day 15 of the cycle. Similarly, oxytocin stimulated PGF release to varying levels at all stages of the cycle in post-partum ewes but only on day 15 in control ewes. Irrespective of the treatment group endometrial oxytocin receptor number was significantly (P < 0·001) correlated with oxytocin-stimulated IP turnover and PGF release.

Thus the induction of ovulation and the subsequent luteal phase in post-partum ewes is against a back ground of high oxytocin receptor expression and enhanced PGF release which in some ewes may contribute to abnormal luteal function.

Journal of Endocrinology (1993) 136, 17–25

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C-X Liu, S Takahashi, T Murata, K Hashimoto, T Agatsuma, S Matsukawa and T Higuchi


Large changes in the responsiveness of target organs to oxytocin are thought to originate from alteration of the number of oxytocin receptors (OTR). To elucidate the molecular mechanisms regulating the synthesis of the OTR, we developed a competitive reverse transcription-PCR protocol to measure OTR mRNA. We synthesized cRNA comprising a small stuffer introduced into the target mRNA. Using this cRNA as an internal standard, we made a quantitative estimation of OTR mRNA. Application of this method to the rat uterus revealed that the mean levels of OTR mRNA remained unchanged until 1030–1100 h on day 21 of pregnancy, increased significantly after 2200–2230 h on the same day and declined rapidly after parturition. A similar rapid increase in uterine OTR mRNA content was observed in rats given prostaglandin on day 18, inducing premature delivery on day 19 of pregnancy. All parturient rats had higher OTR mRNA levels regardless of whether parturition was spontaneous or prostaglandin induced. However, in a few rats, OTR mRNA remained as low as that observed during mid pregnancy even on day 22 of gestation, the expected day of parturition in about 70% of the rats in our colony. A similar increase in uterine OTR mRNA content to that observed at parturition was induced by oestrogen treatment for 3 days in ovariectomized virgin rats, but concomitant injection of progesterone did not influence the effect of oestrogen. The present results revealed that the large increase of uterine OTR at the peripartum period is accompanied by an increase in OTR mRNA content that may be brought about, at least in part, by increased oestrogen secretion following luteolysis.

Journal of Endocrinology (1996) 150, 479–486