Role of Interferons in Maternal Recognition of Pregnancy in Ruminants

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It has recently become evident that a type I interferon (IFN) subtype signals the presence of a viable conceptus to the mother during early pregnancy in cattle, sheep, and related mammalian species. This IFN, which is a product of the epithelium (trophectoderm) of the expanding trophoblast, is expressed in extremely large quantities for a few days just prior to implantation. It appears to be involved in modulating the release of the luteolytic hormone, prostaglandin F2 alpha, from the uterine endometrium and, hence, preventing the destruction of the corpus luteum that normally occurs at the end of an estrous cycle if an egg has not been fertilized. These trophoblast IFN have antiviral, antiproliferative, and immunomodulatory properties quite similar to other type I IFN, such as IFN-alpha, -beta, and -omega. However, they constitute a structurally and serologically distinct subtype. In addition, they are poorly inducible by virus, and the promoter regions of their genes are organized differently than other type I IFN. The genes for these trophoblast IFN are confined to ruminant species in the Artiodactyla order and probably evolved from IFN-omega less than 55 million years ago. There is no evidence for comparable production of type I IFN by trophoblast and placental tissues of mammals outside this ruminant group. Recent experiments have indicated that IFN treatment may have value in improving reproductive performance of sheep when provided during the period of maternal recognition of pregnancy, when much embryonic loss is believed to occur.



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