Dickkopf-related protein 1 is a progestomedin acting on the bovine embryo during the morula-to-blastocyst transition to program trophoblast elongation

Paula Tríbulo, María Belen Rabaglino, Martin Bonet Bo, Luciano de R Carvalheira, Jeanette V Bishop, Thomas R Hansen, Peter J Hansen

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Progesterone regulates the endometrium to support pregnancy establishment and maintenance. In the ruminant, one action of progesterone early in pregnancy is to alter embryonic development and hasten the process of trophoblast elongation around day 14-15 of pregnancy, which is required for maternal recognition of pregnancy. Here we demonstrate that the WNT antagonist DKK1, whose expression is increased by progesterone treatment, can act on the bovine embryo during day 5 to 7.5 of development (the morula to blastocyst stage) to promote embryonic elongation on day 15 of pregnancy. Embryos were produced in vitro and exposed to 0 or 100 ng/ml recombinant human DKK1 from day 5 to 7.5 of culture. Blastocysts were transferred into synchronized recipient cows on day 7.5 (n = 23 for control and 17 for DKK1). On day 15, cows were slaughtered and embryos recovered by flushing the uterus. Embryo recovery was n = 11 for controls (48% recovery) and n = 11 for DKK1 (65% recovery). Except for two DKK1 embryos, all embryos were filamentous. Treatment with DKK1 increased (P = 0.007) the length of filamentous embryos from 43.9 mm to 117.4 mm and the intrauterine content of the maternal recognition of pregnancy signal IFNT (P = 0.01) from 4.9 µg to 16.6 µg. Determination of differentially expressed genes (DEG), using the R environment, revealed 473 DEG at p < 0.05 but none at FDR < 0.05, suggesting that DKK1 did not strongly modify the embryo transcriptome at the time it was measured. However, samples clustered apart in a multidimensional scaling analyisis. Weighted gene co-expression analysis of the transcriptome of filamentous embryos revealed a subset of genes that were related to embryo length, with identification of a significant module of genes in the DKK1 group only. Thus, several of the differences between DKK1 and control groups in gene expression were due to differences in embryo length. In conclusion, DKK1 can act on the morula-to-blastocyst stage embryo to modify subsequent trophoblast elongation. Higher pregnancy rates associated with transfer of DKK1-treated embryos may be due in part to enhancements of trophoblast growth and antiluteolytic signaling through IFNT secretion. Given that progesterone can regulate both timing of trophoblast elongation and DKK1 expression, DKK1 may be a mediator of progesterone effects on embryonic development.

Original languageEnglish
Article number11816
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 14 Aug 2019


  • Animals
  • Blastocyst/cytology
  • Cattle
  • Embryo, Mammalian/cytology
  • Embryonic Development/physiology
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental
  • Intercellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins/physiology
  • Morula/cytology
  • Progesterone/physiology
  • Transcriptome
  • Trophoblasts/cytology


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