The PCR technique and highly degenerate oligonucleotide primers were used to amplify a 282 bp fragment of the horse (Equus caballus) epidermal growth factor (EGF) cDNA. The clone corresponded to 94 amino acids of the EGF precursor molecule. The deduced amino acid sequence of the 53 residue EGF mitogenic peptide within the precursor sequence showed 60–70% identity with five other published EGF sequences. The PCR cDNA fragment hybridized to a 4·9 kb transcript in horse kidney and endometrial RNA which was of a similar size to the mature EGF transcript found in other mammalian species.
The horse cDNA clone was used in Northern blots to monitor EGF expression in the endometrium of pregnant mares up to day 83 of gestation (term=330–340 days). The level of expression increased from day 33 and showed a further dramatic increase between days 35 and 45, which coincides with the onset of implantation and placentation in this species. Levels remained elevated up to day 83. The horse DNA sequence was used to design sense and antisense oligonucleotide probes (45-mers) for in situ hybridization studies. The antisense probe showed specific hybridization to the glandular, but not lumenal, epithelial cells of the endometrium and there was no signal in fetal membranes. The in situ hybridization signal increased between days 35 and 45 to a similar degree to that observed in the Northern blot analysis. This dramatic increase in EGF expression in the glandular epithelium of the mare's endometrium during pregnancy may provide a mitogenic stimulus to the endometrium and/or trophoblast to facilitate placental differentiation and attachment. Alternatively, the precursor could be involved in the endometrial gland secretory process which is necessary to produce uterine milk for fetal sustenance.
The PCR cloning methods used in this study should be generally applicable to the cloning of EGF cDNAs from other species.