The functions of placental oestrogens during equine pregnancy are still unclear. Yet, they may act predominantly as local regulators of growth and differentiation in the microplacentomes. Thus, expression patterns of oestrogen receptors (ERs) alpha and beta were investigated in the microcotyledonary placenta from pregnant mares at 110, 121, 179, 199 and 309 days of gestation by immunohistochemistry. In microplacentomes, both the ER isoforms were detected in trophoblast (T) cells, chorionic villous stroma (FS), microcaruncular epithelium (ME) and microcaruncular stroma (MS). Proportions of positive cells were 38-91% (T), 11-41% (FS), 55-89% (ME), 17-51% (MS) for ERalpha and 66-76% (T), 21-37% (FS), 41-68% (ME) and 24-55% (MS) for ERbeta. Between days 110 and 199, proportions of cells positive for progesterone receptor (PR) varied between 19% and 62% (T), 3% and 50% (CS), 15% and 46% (ME), and 4% and 33% (MS). At day 309, PR was virtually absent in T, CS and ME (percentages < 0.1), whereas in MS 14.3% of cells were still positive. The expression of ERs and PR in equine microplacentomes gives evidence for a role of placental steroids as regulators of placental growth, differentiation and function. The detection of ERalpha, ERbeta and PR in foetal and maternal vascular tissue suggests that placental steroids are also involved in the control of placental angiogenesis and /or vascular functions. The co-localization of ERs with aromatase in T suggests auto- or intracrine functions of oestrogens in this cell type.
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