Blastocyst Formation

About the time the morula enters the uterine cavity, fluid begins to penetrate through the zona pellucida into the intercellular spaces of the inner cell mass. Gradually the intercellular spaces become confluent, and finally a single cavity, the blastocele, forms (Fig. 2.10, A and B). At this time, the embryo is a blastocyst. Cells of the inner cell mass, now called the embryoblast, are at one pole, and those of the outer cell mass, or trophoblast, flatten and form the epithelial wall of the blastocyst (Fig. 2.10, A and B). The zona pellucida has disappeared, allowing implantation to begin.

In the human, trophoblastic cells over the embryoblast pole begin to penetrate between the epithelial cells of the uterine mucosa about the sixth day (Fig. 2.10C). Attachment and invasion of the trophoblast involve integrins, expressed by the trophoblast, and the extracellular matrix molecules laminin and fibronectin. Integrin receptors for laminin promote attachment, while those for fibronectin stimulate migration. These molecules also interact along signal transduction pathways to regulate trophoblast differentiation so that implantation is the result of mutual trophoblastic and endometrial action. Hence, by the end of the first week of development, the human zygote has passed through the morula and blastocyst stages and has begun implantation in the uterine mucosa.

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