Science Track: Ripla Arora, Michigan State University, Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences: “The 3D Womb: Lessons from Earth and Predictions for Space"
How a mammalian embryo determines, and arrives at its site of attachment is a mystery that has puzzled researchers for decades. Additionally, in multiparous species the embryos face an additional challenge of adequate embryo spacing to avoid competition for maternal resources. Using our enhanced confocal imaging and 3D image reconstruction technology we evaluate mouse embryo location along the uterus and the shape of the uterine lumen at specified time intervals. We further use inhibitors of muscle contraction and genetic mutants to evaluate pathways that affect these processes. Our analysis reveals that muscle contractions are essential to shape the uterine structure into a stereotypic pattern as well as to move embryos along the uterine horn. Deviations in embryo location cause embryo crowding, and aberrations in uterine shape affect alignment of embryo along the uterine axis affecting embryo implantation and leading to poor pregnancy outcomes. While space travel might be in reach, surviving as a species on another planet relies on successful embryo implantation and the healthy growth and survival of the progeny. Even though, embryo implantation in space is an elusive concept, it is important to assess the effects of zero gravity and space travel on the gametes, the fertilized embryo as well as the maternal uterine environment in which implantation will occur. Our 3D analysis of uterine structure and function provides novel tools to assess early stages of pregnancy both from the maternal as well as the fetal perspective, especially when subjected to unique physiological environments such as outer space.