Specifically, biologists examining early pregnancy in domestic ferrets report they have identified a protein necessary for embryos to implant successfully in the wall of the uterus, which is pregnancy's first step in mammals.
Newly discovered as a molecular signal in ferret pregnancies, the protein-glucose-6-phosphate isomerase (GPI)-has long been known for its wide-ranging role in metabolism, where it breaks down sugars in organisms as diverse as bacteria and humans. Secreted by tumor cells, GPI also plays a role in metastasis, the invasion of cancer cells into healthy tissues.
Rsearchers Laura Clamon Schulz and Janice M. Bahr at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign report their results in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences. The article will appear online in the PNAS Early Edition on or before June 27 at (http://www.pnas.org) and in the journal's July 8 print edition. (Schulz, a graduate student during the research project, is now doing post-doctoral studies at the Boston University.)
Their work was funded by the Division of Integrative Biology and Neurosciences at the National Science Foundation (NSF), an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering.
According to Bahr, "The identification of GPI as a key signal secreted from mother to embryo in the ferret is an important step forward in the understanding of pregnancy in this and related species. The fact that the protein has been so highly conserved throughout evolution means that it may well be useful in a wide variety of animals, as well as humans, for both reproductive and health issues."