Journal Article

The molecular basis of recurrent pregnancy loss: impaired natural embryo selection

G. Teklenburg, Madhuri Salker, Cobi Heijnen, Nick S. Macklon and Jan J. Brosens

in MHR: Basic science of reproductive medicine

Published on behalf of European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology

Volume 16, issue 12, pages 886-895
Published in print December 2010 | ISSN: 1360-9947
Published online September 2010 | e-ISSN: 1460-2407 | DOI:
The molecular basis of recurrent pregnancy loss: impaired natural embryo selection

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Recurrent pregnancy loss (RPL) is a common and distressing disorder. Chromosomal errors in the embryo are the single most common cause, whereas uterine factors are invariably invoked to explain non-chromosomal miscarriages. These uterine factors are, however, poorly defined. The ability of a conceptus to implant in the endometrium is normally restricted to a few days in the menstrual cycle. A limited ‘window of implantation’ ensures coordinated embryonic and endometrial development, thereby minimizing the risk of late implantation of compromised embryos. In this paper, we review emerging evidence, indicating that RPL is associated with impaired differentiation of endometrial stromal cells into specialized decidual cells. From a functional perspective, this differentiation process, termed decidualization, is not only critical for placental development but also signals the end of the implantation window and bestows on the endometrium the ability to recognize, respond to and eliminate implanting compromised embryos. Thus, we propose that spontaneous decidualization of the human endometrium, which inevitably causes menstrual shedding in the absence of a viable conceptus, serves as functional ‘window for natural embryo selection’. Conversely, impaired decidualization predisposes to late implantation, negates embryo quality control and causes early placental failure, regardless of the embryonic karyotype. This pathological pathway also explains the common observation that many RPL patients seem exceptionally fertile, often conceiving within one or two cycles. Thus, as the clinical correlate of inappropriate uterine receptivity, ‘superfertility’ should be considered as a genuine reproductive disorder that requires targeted intervention.

Keywords: fertility; miscarriage; endometrium; decidualization; embryo

Journal Article.  6570 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Reproductive Medicine

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