Navigating the site for embryo implantation: Biomechanical and molecular regulation of intrauterine embryo distribution

Qi Chen, Ying Zhang, David Elad, Ariel J. Jaffa, Yujing Cao, Xiaoqin Ye, Enkui Duan

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


The distribution of intrauterine embryo implantation site(s) in most mammalian species shows remarkably constant patterns: in monotocous species such as humans, an embryo tends to implant in the uterine fundus; in polytocous species such as rodents, embryos implant evenly along the uterine horns. These long-time evolved patterns bear great biological significance because disruption of these patterns can have adverse effects on pregnancies. However, lack of suitable models and in vivo monitoring techniques has impeded the progress in understanding the mechanisms of intrauterine embryo distribution. These obstacles are being overcome by genetically engineered mouse models and newly developed high-resolution ultrasound. It has been revealed that intrauterine embryo distribution involves multiple events including uterine sensing of an embryo, fine-tuned uterine peristaltic movements, time-controlled uterine fluid reabsorption and uterine luminal closure, as well as embryo orientation. Diverse molecular factors, such as steroid hormone signaling, lipid signaling, adrenergic signaling, developmental genes, ion/water channels, and potentially embryonic signaling are actively involved in intrauterine embryo distribution. This review covers the biomechanical and molecular aspects of intrauterine embryo distribution (embryo spacing at the longitudinal axis and embryo orientation at the vertical axis), as well as its pathophysiological roles in human reproductive medicine. Future progress requires multi-disciplinary research efforts that will integrate in vivo animal models, clinical cases, physiologically relevant in vitro models, and biomechanical/computational modeling. Understanding the mechanisms for intrauterine embryo distribution could potentially lead to development of therapeutics for treating related conditions in reproductive medicine.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1024-1042
Number of pages19
JournalMolecular Aspects of Medicine
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2013


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