Early embryo development, implantation and pregnancy involve a complex dialogue between the embryo and mother. In cattle this dialogue starts as early as days 3-4 when the embryo is still in the oviduct, and it continues to implantation. Immunological processes involving cytokines, mast cells and macrophages form an important part of this dialogue. Amongst the cytokines, interleukin-6 (Il-6) and leukemia inhibitory factor (LIF) are secreted by both the embryo and uterine endometrium and form part of an ongoing and reciprocating dialogue. Mast cells and macrophages populate the uterine endometrium during embryo development and are involved in achieving the correct balance between inflammatory and anti-inflammatory reactions at the uterus that are associated with embryo attachment and implantation. Embryo loss is the major cause of reproductive wastage in cattle, and livestock generally. A deeper understanding of immunological processes during early embryo development will help to achieve the next step change in the efficiency of natural and assisted breeding.
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