Reduced homeobox protein MSX1 in human endometrial tissue is linked to infertility

Alan D. Bolnick, Jay M. Bolnick, Brian A. Kilburn, Tamika Stewart, Jonathan Oakes, Javier Rodriguez-Kovacs, Hamid Reza Kohan-Ghadr, Jing Dai, Michael P. Diamond, Yasushi Hirota, Sascha Drewlo, Sudhansu K. Dey, D. Randall Armant

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


STUDY QUESTION: Is protein expression of the muscle segment homeobox gene family member MSX1 altered in the human secretory endometrium by cell type, developmental stage or fertility?

SUMMARY ANSWER: MSX1 protein levels, normally elevated in the secretory phase endometrium, were significantly reduced in endometrial biopsies obtained from women of infertile couples.

WHAT IS KNOWN ALREADY: Molecular changes in the endometrium are important for fertility in both animals and humans. Msx1 is expressed in the preimplantation mouse uterus and regulates uterine receptivity for implantation. The MSX protein persists a short time, after its message has been down-regulated. Microarray analysis of the human endometrium reveals a similar pattern of MSX1 mRNA expression that peaks before the receptive period, with depressed expression at implantation. Targeted deletion of uterine Msx1 and Msx2 in mice prevents the loss of epithelial cell polarity during implantation and causes infertility.

STUDY DESIGN, SIZE DURATION: MSX1 mRNA and cell type-specific levels of MSX1 protein were quantified from two retrospective cohorts during the human endometrial cycle. MSX1 protein expression patterns were compared between fertile and infertile couples. Selected samples were dual-labeled by immunofluorescence microscopy to localize E-cadherin and β-catenin in epithelial cells.

PARTICIPANTS/MATERIALS, SETTING METHODS: MSX1 mRNA was quantified by PCR in endometrium from hysterectomies (n = 14) determined by endometrial dating to be in the late-proliferative (cycle days 10-13), early-secretory (cycle days 14-19) or mid-secretory (cycle days 20-24) phase. MSX1 protein was localized using high-throughput, semi-quantitative immunohistochemistry with sectioned endometrial biopsy tissues from fertile (n = 89) and infertile (n = 89) couples. Image analysis measured stain intensity specifically within the luminal epithelium, glands and stroma during the early-, mid- and late- (cycle days 25-28) secretory phases.

MAIN RESULTS AND THE ROLE OF CHANCE: MSX1 transcript increased 5-fold (P < 0.05) between the late-proliferative and early secretory phase and was then down-regulated (P < 0.05) prior to receptivity for implantation. In fertile patients, MSX1 protein displayed strong nuclear localization in the luminal epithelium and glands, while it was weakly expressed in nuclei of the stroma. MSX1 protein levels accumulated throughout the secretory phase in all endometrial cellular compartments. MSX1 protein decreased (P < 0.05) in the glands between mid- and late-secretory phases. However, infertile patients demonstrated a broad reduction (P < 0.001) of MSX1 accumulation in all cell types throughout the secretory phase that was most pronounced (∼3-fold) in stroma and glands. Infertility was associated with persistent co-localization of E-cadherin and β-catenin in epithelial cell junctions in the mid- and late-secretory phases.

LIMITATIONS, REASONS FOR CAUTION: Details of the infertility diagnoses and other patient demographic data were not available. Therefore, patients with uterine abnormalities (Mullerian) could not be distinguished from other sources of infertility. Antibody against human MSX2 is not available, limiting the study to MSX1. However, both RNAs in the human endometrium are similarly regulated. In mice, Msx1 and Msx2 are imperative for murine embryo implantation, with Msx2 compensating for genetic ablation of Msx1 through its up-regulation in a knockout model.

WIDER IMPLICATIONS OF THE FINDINGS: This investigation establishes that the MSX1 homeobox protein accumulation is associated with the secretory phase in endometrium of fertile couples, and is widely disrupted in infertile patients. It is the first study to examine MSX1 protein localization in the human endometrium, and supported by genetic findings in mice, suggests that genes regulated by MSX1 are linked to the loss of epithelial cell polarity required for uterine receptivity during implantation.

STUDY FUNDING/COMPETING INTERESTS: This research was supported by the NICHD National Cooperative Reproductive Medicine Network grant HD039005 (M.P.D.), NIH grants HD068524 (S.K.D.), HD071408 (D.R.A., M.P.D.), and HL128628 (S.D.), the Intramural Research Program of the NICHD, March of Dimes (S.K.D., S.D.) and JSPS KAKENHI grant 26112506 (Y.H.). There were no conflicts or competing interests.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2042-2050
Number of pages9
JournalHuman Reproduction
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1 2016


  • E-cadherin
  • Endometrium
  • Female infertility
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Implantation
  • Menstrual cycle
  • Messenger RNA
  • Muscle segment homeobox 1
  • Secretory phase
  • Transcription factor

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Reproductive Medicine
  • Rehabilitation
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology


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