Frontiers in bioscience : a journal and virtual library
Preimplantation or pre-attachment development encompasses the "free"-living period of mammalian embryogenesis, which directs development of the zygote through to the blastocyst stage. Blastocyst formation is essential for implantation, establishment of pregnancy and is a principal determinant of embryo quality prior to embryo transfer. Cavitation (blastocyst formation) is driven by the expression of specific sets of gene products that direct the acquisition of cell polarity within the trophectoderm, which is both the first epithelium of development and the outer cell layer encircling the inner cell mass of the blastocyst. Critical gene families controlling these events include: the E-cadherin-catenin cell adhesion family, the tight junction gene family, the Na/K-ATPase gene family and perhaps the aquaporin gene family. This review will update the roles of each of these gene families in trophectoderm differentiation and blastocyst formation. The current principal hypothesis under investigation is that blastocyst formation is mediated by a trans-trophectoderm ion gradient(s) established, in part, by Na/K-ATPase, which drives the movement of water through aquaporins (AQPs) across the epithelium into the extracellular space of the blastocyst to form the fluid-filled blastocoel. The trophectoderm tight junctional permeability seal regulates the leakage of blastocoel fluid, and also assists in the maintenance of a polarized Na/K-ATPase distribution to the basolateral plasma membrane domain of the mural trophectoderm. The cell-to-cell adhesion provided by the E-cadherin-catenin gene families is required for the establishment of the tight junction seal and the maintenance of the polarized Na/K-ATPase distribution. Blastocyst formation is therefore directly linked with trophectoderm cell differentiation, which arises through fundamental cell biological processes that are associated with the establishment of cell polarity.