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Special Issue "Embryo-Maternal Interactions Underlying Reproduction in Mammals"

A special issue of International Journal of Molecular Sciences (ISSN 1422-0067). This special issue belongs to the section "Molecular Biology".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (29 November 2019).

Special Issue Editors

Dr. Stefan Bauersachs
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Vetsuisse Faculty Zurich, University of Zurich, Eschikon 27, AgroVet-Strickhof, 8315 Lindau (ZH), Switzerland
Interests: endometrium; embryo; extracellular vesicles/exosomes; preimplantation phase; sperm miRNAs; gene expression; transcriptomics; RNA-sequencing; microRNA; bioinformatics
Dr. Carmen Almiñana
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Vetsuisse Faculty Zurich, University of Zurich, Eschikon 27, AgroVet-Strickhof, 8315 Lindau (ZH), Switzerland
Interests: oviduct; endometrium; embryo; extracellular vesicles/exosomes; preimplantation phase; gene expression; transcriptomics; reproductive biotechnologies; in vitro embryo production; embryo cryopreservation

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

This Special Issue, “Embryo-Maternal Interactions Underlying Reproduction in Mammals”, will include a selection of recent research topics and current review articles related to the study of embryo-maternal interactions in mammalian species during the preimplantation phase. Up-to-date review articles, commentaries as well as original experimental papers are welcome. Since the reproductive strategies show considerable differences between mammalian groups, articles are not restricted to a specific mammalian species and comparative approaches among species are also welcome.

For the last two decades, omics technologies have revolutionized the study of embryo-maternal interactions and revealed an unexpected complexity and diversity of this dialog among mammals. Differences have been identified regarding the maternal support of embryo development, recognition of pregnancy, and preparation for implantation. Studies have been performed on all players involved in these interactions; embryos at different stages, oviduct, endometrium, and more recently oviductal and endometrial fluid including extracellular vesicles/exosomes contained in these fluids. Particularly, the latter have been proposed as modulators of the maternal-embryo dialogue by the exchange of various types of molecules (RNAs, proteins, lipids, and other metabolites) and also as an epigenetic mechanism for the transfer of these maternal molecules to the early embryo.

Dr. Stefan Bauersachs
Dr. Carmen Almiñana
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

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Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a single-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. International Journal of Molecular Sciences is an international peer-reviewed open access semimonthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. There is an Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal. For details about the APC please see here. Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • oviduct
  • endometrium
  • embryo
  • conceptus
  • extracellular vesicles/exosomes
  • preimplantation phase
  • maternal recognition of pregnancy
  • implantation
  • transcriptomics
  • proteomics

Published Papers (10 papers)

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Research

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Open AccessArticle
Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor A and VEGFR-1 Change during Preimplantation in Heifers
Int. J. Mol. Sci. 2020, 21(2), 544; https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms21020544 - 15 Jan 2020
Abstract
Vascular endothelial growth factor A (VEGFA) plays a critical angiogenic role in the endometrium of placentalia during preimplantation. The role of VEGFA and its receptors is not fully characterised in bovine reproduction. We analysed the mRNA expression of VEGFA isoforms 121, 165 and [...] Read more.
Vascular endothelial growth factor A (VEGFA) plays a critical angiogenic role in the endometrium of placentalia during preimplantation. The role of VEGFA and its receptors is not fully characterised in bovine reproduction. We analysed the mRNA expression of VEGFA isoforms 121, 165 and 189, and VEGF receptors 1 and 2 in three experimental settings (A, B and C). We compared intercaruncular endometrium of cyclic to pregnant heifers at Days 12, 15 and 18 post insemination (Day 0), and between Day 15 and Day 18 conceptuses (A). We further compared caruncular versus intercaruncular endometrium at Day 15 (B), and endometrium of heifers carrying embryos originating from somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) versus in vitro fertilisation (IVF) at Day 18 (C). Endometrial VEGFA protein was localised and quantified. Pregnant heifers displayed lower intercaruncular endometrial mRNA expression of VEGFA-121 (p = 0.045) and VEGFA-189 (p = 0.009) as well as lower VEGFA protein abundance (p < 0.001) at Day 15. The VEGFA protein was localised in intercaruncular luminal, glandular epithelium and in tunica muscularis of blood vessels. At Day 15, caruncular endometrium displayed higher VEGFA mRNA expression than intercaruncular endometrium (p < 0.05). Intercaruncular endometrial VEGFA protein at Day 18 was higher in abundance in SCNT than in IVF (p = 0.038). Therefore, during preimplantation in cattle, there may be a need for timely physiological reduction in intercaruncular endometrial VEGFA expression in favour of the caruncular area to facilitate a gradient towards the implantation sites. A higher expression of VEGFA in SCNT may predispose for later placentation abnormalities frequently observed following SCNT. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Embryo-Maternal Interactions Underlying Reproduction in Mammals)
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Open AccessArticle
Identification of 56 Proteins Involved in Embryo–Maternal Interactions in the Bovine Oviduct
Int. J. Mol. Sci. 2020, 21(2), 466; https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms21020466 - 11 Jan 2020
Abstract
The bovine embryo develops in contact with the oviductal fluid (OF) during the first 4–5 days of pregnancy. The aim of this study was to decipher the protein interactions occurring between the developing embryo and surrounding OF. In-vitro produced 4–6 cell and morula [...] Read more.
The bovine embryo develops in contact with the oviductal fluid (OF) during the first 4–5 days of pregnancy. The aim of this study was to decipher the protein interactions occurring between the developing embryo and surrounding OF. In-vitro produced 4–6 cell and morula embryos were incubated or not (controls) in post-ovulatory OF (OF-treated embryos) and proteins were then analyzed and quantified by high resolution mass spectrometry (MS) in both embryo groups and in OF. A comparative analysis of MS data allowed the identification and quantification of 56 embryo-interacting proteins originated from the OF, including oviductin (OVGP1) and several annexins (ANXA1, ANXA2, ANXA4) as the most abundant ones. Some embryo-interacting proteins were developmental stage-specific, showing a modulating role of the embryo in protein interactions. Three interacting proteins (OVGP1, ANXA1 and PYGL) were immunolocalized in the perivitelline space and in blastomeres, showing that OF proteins were able to cross the zona pellucida and be taken up by the embryo. Interacting proteins were involved in a wide range of functions, among which metabolism and cellular processes were predominant. This study identified for the first time a high number of oviductal embryo-interacting proteins, paving the way for further targeted studies of proteins potentially involved in the establishment of pregnancy in cattle. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Embryo-Maternal Interactions Underlying Reproduction in Mammals)
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Open AccessArticle
Does Maternal Stress Affect the Early Embryonic Microenvironment? Impact of Long-Term Cortisol Stimulation on the Oviduct Epithelium
Int. J. Mol. Sci. 2020, 21(2), 443; https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms21020443 - 10 Jan 2020
Abstract
Maternal stress before or during the sensitive preimplantation phase is associated with reproduction failure. Upon real or perceived threat, glucocorticoids (classic stress hormones) as cortisol are synthesized. The earliest “microenvironment” of the embryo consists of the oviduct epithelium and the oviductal fluid generated [...] Read more.
Maternal stress before or during the sensitive preimplantation phase is associated with reproduction failure. Upon real or perceived threat, glucocorticoids (classic stress hormones) as cortisol are synthesized. The earliest “microenvironment” of the embryo consists of the oviduct epithelium and the oviductal fluid generated via the epithelial barrier. However, to date, the direct effects of cortisol on the oviduct are largely unknown. In the present study, we used a compartmentalized in vitro system to test the hypothesis that a prolonged stimulation with cortisol modifies the physiology of the oviduct epithelium. Porcine oviduct epithelial cells were differentiated at the air–liquid interface and basolaterally stimulated with physiological levels of cortisol representing moderate and severe stress for 21 days. Epithelium structure, transepithelial bioelectric properties, and gene expression were assessed. Furthermore, the distribution and metabolism of cortisol was examined. The polarized oviduct epithelium converted basolateral cortisol to cortisone and thereby reduced the amount of bioactive cortisol reaching the apical compartment. However, extended cortisol stimulation affected its barrier function and the expression of genes involved in hormone signaling and immune response. We conclude that continuing maternal stress with long-term elevated cortisol levels may alter the early embryonic environment by modification of basic oviductal functions. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Embryo-Maternal Interactions Underlying Reproduction in Mammals)
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Open AccessArticle
Maternal Recognition of Pregnancy in the Horse: Are MicroRNAs the Secret Messengers?
Int. J. Mol. Sci. 2020, 21(2), 419; https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms21020419 - 09 Jan 2020
Abstract
The signal for maternal recognition of pregnancy (MRP) has still not been identified in the horse. High-throughput molecular biology at the embryo–maternal interface has substantially contributed to the knowledge on pathways affected during MRP, but an integrated study in which proteomics, transcriptomics and [...] Read more.
The signal for maternal recognition of pregnancy (MRP) has still not been identified in the horse. High-throughput molecular biology at the embryo–maternal interface has substantially contributed to the knowledge on pathways affected during MRP, but an integrated study in which proteomics, transcriptomics and miRNA expression can be linked directly is currently lacking. The aim of this study was to provide such analysis. Endometrial biopsies, uterine fluid, embryonic tissues, and yolk sac fluid were collected 13 days after ovulation during pregnant and control cycles from the same mares. Micro-RNA-Sequencing was performed on all collected samples, mRNA-Sequencing on the same tissue samples and mass spectrometry was conducted previously on the same fluid samples. Differential expression of miRNA, mRNA and proteins showed high conformity with literature and confirmed involvement in pregnancy establishment, embryo quality, steroid synthesis and prostaglandin regulation, but the link between differential miRNAs and their targets was limited and did not indicate the identity of an unequivocal signal for MRP in the horse. Differential expression at the embryo–maternal interface was prominent, highlighting a potential role of miRNAs in embryo–maternal communication during early pregnancy in the horse. These data provide a strong basis for future targeted studies. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Embryo-Maternal Interactions Underlying Reproduction in Mammals)
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Open AccessArticle
Metabolomic Profile of Oviductal Extracellular Vesicles across the Estrous Cycle in Cattle
Int. J. Mol. Sci. 2019, 20(24), 6339; https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms20246339 - 16 Dec 2019
Abstract
Oviductal extracellular vesicles (oEVs) have been proposed as key modulators of gamete/embryo maternal interactions. The aim of this study was to examine the metabolite content of oEVs and its regulation across the estrous cycle in cattle. Oviductal EVs were isolated from bovine oviducts [...] Read more.
Oviductal extracellular vesicles (oEVs) have been proposed as key modulators of gamete/embryo maternal interactions. The aim of this study was to examine the metabolite content of oEVs and its regulation across the estrous cycle in cattle. Oviductal EVs were isolated from bovine oviducts ipsilateral and contralateral to ovulation at four stages of the estrous cycle (post-ovulatory stage, early and late luteal phases, and pre-ovulatory stage). The metabolomic profiling of EVs was performed by proton nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (NMR). NMR identified 22 metabolites in oEVs, among which 15 were quantified. Lactate, myoinositol, and glycine were the most abundant metabolites throughout the estrous cycle. The side relative to ovulation had no effect on the oEVs’ metabolite concentrations. However, levels of glucose-1-phosphate and maltose were greatly affected by the cycle stage, showing up to 100-fold higher levels at the luteal phase than at the peri-ovulatory phases. In contrast, levels of methionine were significantly higher at peri-ovulatory phases than at the late-luteal phase. Quantitative enrichment analyses of oEV-metabolites across the cycle evidenced several significantly regulated metabolic pathways related to sucrose, glucose, and lactose metabolism. This study provides the first metabolomic characterization of oEVs, increasing our understanding of the potential role of oEVs in promoting fertilization and early embryo development. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Embryo-Maternal Interactions Underlying Reproduction in Mammals)
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Open AccessArticle
Expression Profile of the Chromosome 14 MicroRNA Cluster (C14MC) Ortholog in Equine Maternal Circulation throughout Pregnancy and Its Potential Implications
Int. J. Mol. Sci. 2019, 20(24), 6285; https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms20246285 - 13 Dec 2019
Abstract
Equine chromosome 24 microRNA cluster (C24MC), the ortholog of human C14MC, is a pregnancy-related miRNA cluster. This cluster is believed to be implicated in embryonic, fetal, and placental development. The current study aimed to characterize the expression profile of this cluster in maternal [...] Read more.
Equine chromosome 24 microRNA cluster (C24MC), the ortholog of human C14MC, is a pregnancy-related miRNA cluster. This cluster is believed to be implicated in embryonic, fetal, and placental development. The current study aimed to characterize the expression profile of this cluster in maternal circulation throughout equine gestation. The expression profile of miRNAs belonging to this cluster was analyzed in the serum of non-pregnant (diestrus), pregnant (25 d, 45 d, 4 mo, 6 mo, 10 mo), and postpartum mares. Among the miRNAs examined, 11 miRNAs were differentially expressed across the analyzed time-points. Four of these miRNAs (eca-miR-1247-3p, eca-miR-134-5p, eca-miR-382-5p, and eca-miR-433-3p) were found to be enriched in the serum of pregnant mares at Day 25 relative to non-pregnant mares. To further assess the accuracy of these miRNAs in differentiating pregnant (25 d) from non-pregnant mares, receiver operating characteristic (ROC) analysis was performed for each of these miRNAs, revealing that eca-miR-1247-3p and eca-miR-134-5p had the highest accuracy (AUCROC = 0.92 and 0.91, respectively; p < 0.05). Moreover, eca-miR-1247-3p, eca-miR-134-5p, eca-miR-409-3p, and eca-miR-379-5p were enriched in the serum of Day 45 pregnant mares. Among those miRNAs, eca-miR-1247-3p and eca-miR-409-3p retained the highest accuracy as shown by ROC analysis. GO analysis revealed that these miRNAs are mainly implicated in nervous system development as well as organ development. Using in situ hybridization, we localized eca-miR-409-3p in the developing embryo (25 d) and extra-embryonic membranes (25 and 45 d). In conclusion, the present study is the first to elucidate the circulating maternal profile of C24MC-associated miRNAs throughout pregnancy and to suggest that serum eca-miR-1247-3p, eca-miR-134-5p, and eca-miR-409-3p could be used as pregnancy-specific markers during early gestation (25 and 45 d). Overall, the high abundance of these embryo-derived miRNAs in the maternal circulation suggests an embryo-maternal communication during the equine early pregnancy. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Embryo-Maternal Interactions Underlying Reproduction in Mammals)
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Open AccessArticle
Which Low-Abundance Proteins are Present in the Human Milieu of Gamete/Embryo Maternal Interaction?
Int. J. Mol. Sci. 2019, 20(21), 5305; https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms20215305 - 24 Oct 2019
Abstract
The improvement of the embryo culture media is of high relevance due to its influence on successful implantation rates, pregnancy, neonatal outcomes, and potential effects in adult life. The ideal conditions for embryo development are those naturally occurring in the female reproductive tract, [...] Read more.
The improvement of the embryo culture media is of high relevance due to its influence on successful implantation rates, pregnancy, neonatal outcomes, and potential effects in adult life. The ideal conditions for embryo development are those naturally occurring in the female reproductive tract, i.e., the oviductal and uterine fluids. To shed light on the differences between chemical and natural media, we performed the first comparative study of the low abundance proteins in plasma, uterine, and oviductal fluid collected, simultaneously, from healthy and fertile women that underwent a salpingectomy. The rationale for this design derives from the fact that high-abundant proteins in these fluids are usually those coming from blood serum and frequently mask the detection of low abundant proteins with a potentially significant role in specific processes related to the embryo–maternal interaction. The proteomic analysis by 1D-nano LC ESI-MSMS detected several proteins in higher amounts in oviductal fluid when compared to uterine and plasma samples (RL3, GSTA1, EZRI, DPYSL3, GARS, HSP90A). Such oviductal fluid proteins could be a target to improve fertilization rates and early embryo development if used in the culture media. In conclusion, this study presents a high-throughput analysis of female reproductive tract fluids and contributes to the knowledge of oviductal and uterine secretome. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Embryo-Maternal Interactions Underlying Reproduction in Mammals)
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Open AccessArticle
Immunohistochemical Examination of Trophoblast Syncytialization during Early Placentation in Sheep
Int. J. Mol. Sci. 2019, 20(18), 4530; https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms20184530 - 13 Sep 2019
Abstract
During the peri-implantation period, multinucleated syncytia are formed in the sheep placenta. For over 20 years the scientific consensus has been that during trophoblast syncytialization in sheep, binucleate trophoblast giant cells (BNCs) differentiate from mononuclear trophoblast cells, and individual BNCs fuse with individual [...] Read more.
During the peri-implantation period, multinucleated syncytia are formed in the sheep placenta. For over 20 years the scientific consensus has been that during trophoblast syncytialization in sheep, binucleate trophoblast giant cells (BNCs) differentiate from mononuclear trophoblast cells, and individual BNCs fuse with individual luminal epithelial (LE) cells to form trinucleate cells. These trophoblast–LE syncytial plaques then grow through continued BNC migration and fusion. Therefore, LE cells are thought to be incorporated into syncytial plaques. However, these ideas were based on electron microscopy studies, without benefit of molecular markers for BNC and LE cells to support conclusions. The aim of this study was to observe interactions between BNCs and uterine LE cells using immunohistochemical localization for molecular markers for BNCs and uterine LE cells. We performed immunofluorescence staining, laser capture microdissection, and TUNEL staining on the uterine–placental tissues of sheep during early placentation. We observed: (1) syncytial cells containing more than two nuclei within the trophoblast cell layer; (2) depolarized LE cells that express caspase 3 and stain positively for TUNEL; (3) engulfment of caspase 3-positive LE cells by trophoblast giant cells (TGCs) and empty spaces within the LE layer at sites of implantation; (4) rapid enlargement of syncytial plaques; and (5) E-cadherin and TUNEL-positive cells within the uterine stroma underlying degenerating LE was coincident with accumulation of CD45-positive cells at these sites. These data suggest that during early placentation: (1) fusion between trophoblasts is not limited to the formation of BNCs, and the term ‘trophoblast giant cell (TGC)’ may be appropriate; (2) LE cells undergo apoptosis; (3) apoptotic LE cells are eliminated by TGCs; (4) fusion is not limited to the incorporation of new BNCs but involves the lateral fusion between growing syncytial plaques; and (5) TGCs carry apoptotic LE cells away from the uterine–placental interface for elimination by immune cells within the stroma. These data indicate that uterine LE cells are not incorporated into syncytial plaques, but are engulfed and eliminated, and that early placentation in sheep is more similar to early placentation in humans than is currently understood in that both develop mononucleated cytotrophoblast and multinucleated syncytiotrophoblast layers of entirely placental origin. The elimination of LE cells by sheep TGCs might provide insights into elimination and penetration of LE cells during human embryo implantation. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Embryo-Maternal Interactions Underlying Reproduction in Mammals)
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Review

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Open AccessReview
The Role of MicroRNAs in Mammalian Fertility: From Gametogenesis to Embryo Implantation
Int. J. Mol. Sci. 2020, 21(2), 585; https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms21020585 - 16 Jan 2020
Abstract
The genetic codes inscribed during two key developmental processes, namely gametogenesis and embryogenesis, are believed to determine subsequent development and survival of adult life. Once the embryo is formed, its further development mainly depends on its intrinsic characteristics, maternal environment (the endometrial receptivity), [...] Read more.
The genetic codes inscribed during two key developmental processes, namely gametogenesis and embryogenesis, are believed to determine subsequent development and survival of adult life. Once the embryo is formed, its further development mainly depends on its intrinsic characteristics, maternal environment (the endometrial receptivity), and the embryo–maternal interactions established during each phase of development. These developmental processes are under strict genetic regulation that could be manifested temporally and spatially depending on the physiological and developmental status of the cell. MicroRNAs (miRNAs), one of the small non-coding classes of RNAs, approximately 19–22 nucleotides in length, are one of the candidates for post-transcriptional developmental regulators. These tiny non-coding RNAs are expressed in ovarian tissue, granulosa cells, testis, oocytes, follicular fluid, and embryos and are implicated in diverse biological processes such as cell-to-cell communication. Moreover, accumulated evidences have also highlighted that miRNAs can be released into the extracellular environment through different mechanisms facilitating intercellular communication. Therefore, understanding miRNAs mediated regulatory mechanisms during gametogenesis and embryogenesis provides further insights about the molecular mechanisms underlying oocyte/sperm formation, early embryo development, and implantation. Thus, this review highlights the role of miRNAs in mammalian gametogenesis and embryogenesis and summarizes recent findings about miRNA-mediated post-transcriptional regulatory mechanisms occurring during early mammalian development. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Embryo-Maternal Interactions Underlying Reproduction in Mammals)
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Open AccessReview
Composing the Early Embryonic Microenvironment: Physiology and Regulation of Oviductal Secretions
Int. J. Mol. Sci. 2020, 21(1), 223; https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms21010223 - 28 Dec 2019
Abstract
The oviductal fluid is the first environment experienced by mammalian embryos at the very beginning of life. However, it has long been believed that the oviductal environment was not essential for proper embryonic development. Successful establishment of in vitro embryo production techniques (which [...] Read more.
The oviductal fluid is the first environment experienced by mammalian embryos at the very beginning of life. However, it has long been believed that the oviductal environment was not essential for proper embryonic development. Successful establishment of in vitro embryo production techniques (which completely bypass the oviduct) have reinforced this idea. Yet, it became evident that in vitro produced embryos differ markedly from their in vivo counterparts, and these differences are associated with lower pregnancy outcomes and more health issues after birth. Nowadays, researchers consider the oviduct as the most suitable microenvironment for early embryonic development and a substantial effort is made to understand its dynamic, species-specific functions. In this review, we touch on the origin and molecular components of the oviductal fluid in mammals, where recent progress has been made thanks to the wider use of mass spectrometry techniques. Some of the factors and processes known to regulate oviductal secretions, including the embryo itself, as well as ovulation, insemination, endogenous and exogenous hormones, and metabolic and heat stress, are summarized. Special emphasis is laid on farm animals because, owing to the availability of sample material and the economic importance of fertility in livestock husbandry, a large part of the work on this topic has been carried out in domestic animals used for dairy and/or meat production. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Embryo-Maternal Interactions Underlying Reproduction in Mammals)
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