MUC1/episialin: a critical barrier in the female reproductive tract
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The female reproductive tract must resist microbial infections as well as support embryonic development, implantation and placentation. Reproductive tract mucins, in general, and Muc1/episialin, in particular, play key roles in implantation related events and in protection from microbial infection. High levels of mucin expression in the lower reproductive tract presumably affords protection against infection while down-regulation of uterine mucins has been suggested to provide access to the uterine surface. The present studies demonstrate that mucins, particularly Muc1, are effective barriers to embryo attachment. Furthermore, a strain of female Muc1 null mice in normal housing displays chronic infection and inflammation of the lower reproductive tract and markedly reduced fertility rates. This phenotype is not observed when Muc1 nulls are housed in a pathogen-free environment indicating that this phenotype results from chronic microbial exposure. Only normal endogenous flora were isolated from the reproductive tracts of affected Muc1 null mice, suggesting that these bacterial species become opportunistic with loss of the mucin barrier. Staphylococcal adherence to lower reproductive tract epithelia was found to be mediated by cell surface mucin carbohydrates. Collectively, these studies demonstrate a critical barrier role for Muc1 in various aspects of female reproductive tract physiology.
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