Heparin-binding epidermal growth factor (HB-EGF) has pleiotropic biological functions in many tissues, including those of the female reproductive tract. It facilitates embryo development and mediates implantation and is thought to have a function in endometrial receptivity and maturation. The mature HB-EGF molecule manifests its activity as either a soluble factor (sol-HB-EGF) or a transmembrane precursor (tm-HB-EGF) and can bind two receptors, EGFR and ErbB4/HER4. In this study, we identify factors that modulate expression of HB-EGF, EGFR, and ErbB4 in endometrial stromal cells in vitro. We demonstrate that levels of sol- and tm-HB-EGF, EGFR, and ErbB4 are increased by cAMP, a potent inducer of decidualization of the endometrial stroma. We also show that production of sol- and tm-HB-EGF is differentially modulated by TNF alpha and TGF beta. Our data suggest that HB-EGF has a function in endometrial maturation in mediating decidualization and attenuating TNF alpha- and TGF beta-induced apoptosis of endometrial stromal cells
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