- Embryo implantation plays a major role in embryogenesis and the outcome of pregnancy. Plasminogen activators (PAs) have been implicated in mammalian fertilization, early stages of development and embryo implantation. The invasion of trophoblast cells into the endometrium during the implantation process can be blocked by inhibitors of serine proteases, illustrating the role of these enzymes in the invasion process. As in vitro developing embryos resulted in lower implantation rate than those developed in vivo we assume that a reduced PAs activity may lead to it. There is hardly any information regarding qualitative or quantitative differences in expression of PAs in preimplantation embryos, or comparisons between in vivo and in vitro developed embryos. The purpose of this study was to assess the expression of urokinase type (uPA) and tissue type (tPA) plasminogen activators in in vivo and in vitro preimplantation development in rat embryos using immunofluorescence confocal microscopy and computerized image analysis. Zygotes, 2-cell, 4-cell, 8-cell, morula and blastocyst stages of development were flushed from the reproductive tract (control groups) of Wistar rats. Zygotes were flushed and grown in vitro to the above mentioned developmental stages and comprised the experimental groups. Immunofluorescence microscopy and computerized image analysis were used to evaluate both qualitative (localization) and quantitative expression of plasminogen activators. uPA and tPA were found to be expressed in rat embryos throughout their preimplantation development, both in vivo and in vitro. While uPA was localized mainly in the cell cytoplasm, the tPA was detected mainly on cell surface and in the perivitelline space. In blastocysts, both in vivo and in vitro, uPA and tPA were localized in the trophectoderm cells. Total uPA content per embryo was higher in the in vivo as compared with the in vitro developed embryos at all stages measured. Blastocyst uPA content was significantly low as compared with the four-cell, eight-cell, and morula stages. Total tPA content was higher in embryos developed in vivo than those developed in vitro except for the 4-cell and 8-cell stages. In vitro embryo development leads to lower PAs expression in a stage dependent manner as compared with in vivo developing controls. The enzymes studied vary probably in the ratio of their active and inactive forms as there is no correlation between their content and the activity observed in our previous study. The localization of both PAs in the blastocysts' trophectoderm supports the assumption that PAs plays a role in the implantation process in rats.