Large quantities of an unusual 19 kDa protein (p19) are secreted into the lumen of the uterus of the mare (Equus caballus) during the oestrous cycle and early pregnancy. p19 associates strongly with the acellular capsule that surrounds the young horse conceptus and is believed to be important in maintaining pregnancy. Here we report the complete cDNA sequence encoding p19, its expression patterns in horse tissues and a Southern blot analysis of the gene in horse DNA. The predicted amino acid sequence of the p19 cDNA demonstrated a signal peptide of 18 residues and a mature protein of 162 residues, giving a predicted molecular mass of 18.8 kDa for the secreted protein. Analysis of the predicted amino acid sequence showed that p19 belongs to the lipocalin family of proteins, which are classified on the basis of three conserved amino acid sequence motifs and an eight-stranded anti-parallel β-barrel conformation. Overall, p19 was most similar to the mouse major urinary protein (MUP) lipocalins (30–34% identity). Secondary structural predictions and structural modelling using the MUP 1 crystal structure coordinates gave convincing evidence that the three-dimensional structure of p19 closely resembles that of the lipocalins. However, p19 has several unusual substitutions in one of the three conserved lipocalin motifs and therefore seems to be a novel member of the family. Lipocalins perform many different functions but most bind small hydrophobic molecules and the majority act as transport proteins. The function of p19 might therefore be as a carrier of a maternal factor needed to sustain the developing embryo during pregnancy, or it could be incorporated into the embryonic capsule and perform some other function. Northern blot analysis demonstrated that expression of p19 is confined to the endometrial lining of the mare's uterus, and hybridization studies in situ showed that the mRNA for p19 is localized to the glandular and luminal epithelia of the endometrium. A Southern blot analysis of horse DNA indicated a single gene for p19 that seems to be at least 4.5 kb in size.

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Author notes

The nucleotide sequence reported will appear in DDBJ, EMBL and GenBank Nucleotide Sequence Databases under the accession number X98459.