Retinoic acid (RA) signaling has long been speculated to regulate embryo implantation, because many enzymes and proteins responsible for maintaining RA homeostasis and transducing RA signals are tightly regulated in the endometrium during this critical period. However, due to a lack of genetic data, it was unclear whether RA signaling is truly required for implantation and which specific RA signaling cascades are at play. Herein we utilize a genetic murine model that expresses a dominant-negative form of RA receptor (RAR) specifically in female reproductive organs to show that functional RA signaling is fundamental to female fertility, particularly implantation and decidualization. Reduction in RA signaling activity severely affects the ability of the uterus to achieve receptive status and decidualize, partially through dampening follistatin expression and downstream activin B/bone morphogenetic protein 2 signaling. To confirm translational relevance of these findings to humans, human endometrial stromal cells (hESCs) were treated with a pan-RAR antagonist to show that in vitro decidualization is impaired. RNA interference perturbation of individual RAR transcripts in hESCs revealed that RARα in particular was essential for proper decidualization. These data provide direct functional evidence that uterine RAR-mediated RA signaling was crucial for mammalian embryo implantation, and its disruption led to failure of uterine receptivity and decidualization, resulting in severely compromised fertility.
Yan Yin, Meade E. Haller, Sangappa B. Chadchan, Ramakrishna Kommagani, Liang Ma