The endometrium undergoes substantial morphological and functional changes to become receptive to embryo implantation and to enable establishment of a successful pregnancy. Reduced Delta-like ligand 1 (DLL1, Notch ligand) in the endometrium is associated with infertility. DLL1 can be cleaved by 'a disintegrin and metalloprotease' (ADAM) proteases to produce a soluble ligand that may act to inhibit Notch signalling. We used an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay to quantify soluble DLL1 in uterine lavages from fertile and infertile women in the secretory phase of the menstrual cycle. We also determined the cellular location and immunostaining intensity of ADAM12 and 17 in human endometrium throughout the cycle. Functional effects of soluble DLL1 in receptivity were analysed using in vitro adhesion and proliferation assays and gene expression analysis of Notch signalling targets. Soluble DLL1 was significantly increased in uterine lavage samples of infertile women compared with fertile women in the secretory phase of the menstrual cycle. This coincided with significantly increased ADAM17 immunostaining detected in the endometrial luminal epithelium in the mid-secretory phase in infertile women. Soluble DLL1 significantly inhibited the adhesive capacity of endometrial epithelial cells via downregulation of helix-loop-helix and hairy/enhancer of split family member HES1 mRNA. Thus, soluble DLL1 may serve as a suitable target or potential biomarker for receptivity.
- Notch signalling