The human endometrium shows a remarkable regenerative capacity that enables cyclical regeneration and remodeling throughout a woman's reproductive life. Although early postnatal uterine developmental cues direct this regeneration, the vital factors that govern early endometrial programming are largely unknown. We report that Beclin-1, an essential autophagy-associated protein, plays an integral role in uterine morphogenesis during the early postnatal period. We show that conditional depletion of Beclin-1 in the uterus triggers apoptosis and causes progressive loss of Lgr5+/Aldh1a1+ endometrial progenitor stem cells, with concomitant loss of Wnt signaling, which is crucial for stem cell renewal and epithelial gland development. Beclin-1 knockin (Becn1 KI) mice with disabled apoptosis exhibit normal uterine development. Importantly, the restoration of Beclin-1-driven autophagy, but not apoptosis, promotes normal uterine adenogenesis and morphogenesis. Together, the data suggest that Beclin-1-mediated autophagy acts as a molecular switch that governs the early uterine morphogenetic program by maintaining the endometrial progenitor stem cells.
- stem cells