Extracellular Vesicles in the Intrauterine Environment: Challenges and Potential Functions1

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Abstract

Extracellular vesicles (EVs), including exosomes (30–150 nm) and microvesicles (100–1500 nm), play important roles in mediating cell-cell communication. Such particles package distinct cargo elements, including lipids, proteins, mRNAs, microRNAs, and DNA, that vary depending on the cell of origin and its phenotype. This cargo can be horizontally transferred to target cells where its components can reprogram the recipient cell to modify its function. EVs have been identified within the uterine cavity of women, sheep, and mice, where they contribute to the microenvironment of sperm transport, and of blastocyst and endometrial preparation for implantation. It is likely that exosomes and microvesicles carry different cargo and coordinate different roles in this intrauterine environment. Understanding and defining these subtypes of EVs is important for future functional studies and clinical translation. Here we critically review the various purification and validation procedures for extracellular vesicle analysis and discuss what is known of endometrial-derived exosome cargo and of their hormonal regulation. The current knowledge of the functions of uterine exosomes, with respect to sperm transport and function, and of their actions on trophectodermal cells to promote implantation are summarized and evaluated in their physiological context. Given the potential importance of this form of cell-cell interactions within the reproductive tract, the critical issues discussed will guide new insights in this rapidly expanding field.

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