South American Camelids (SAC) have unique reproductive features, one of which is that 98% of the pregnancies develop in the left uterine horn. Furthermore, early pregnancy is an uncharacterized process in these species, especially in regard to the ultrastructural, biochemical and genetic changes that the uterine epithelial surface undergoes to allow embryo implantation. The present study describes the uterine horn luminal surface and the characteristics of the mucinous glycocalyx in non-pregnant and early pregnant (15 days) female alpacas. In addition, the relative abundance of Mucin 1 and 16 genes (MUC1 and MUC16) was determined, as well as the relative mRNA abundance of matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) that could be involved in MUC shedding during early pregnancy. Noticeable changes were detected in the uterine luminal epithelium and glycocalyx of pregnant alpacas in comparison to non-pregnant ones, as well as presence of MUCs and MMPs in the endometrial environment. The decrease in glycocalyx staining and in the relative abundance of MUC 1 and MUC 16 transcripts in pregnant females would allow embryo attachment to the luminal epithelium and its subsequent implantation, as has been described in other mammals. These results suggest a crucial role of MUC1 and MUC16 and a possible role of MMPs in successful embryo implantation and survival in alpacas.
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