BACKGROUND: Transplantation of the uterus has been suggested as a treatment of uterine factor infertility. This study investigates whether the sheep uterus can resume its capacity to harbour normal pregnancies after autotransplantation by vascular anastomosis.
METHODS: From 14 ewes, the uterus, excluding one uterine horn, was isolated along with its oviduct and ovary and preserved ex vivo and then transplanted back with end-to-side anastomosis of the vessels of the graft to the external iliac vessels. After recovery, the ewes underwent surgical examination and serum progesterone measurements to ascertain healing and ovarian activity. Afterwards, five autotransplanted and five control ewes were placed with a ram for mating. Caesarean sections were performed before the estimated term of pregnancy and data on fetal measures were compared.
RESULTS: Of the 14 ewes, seven survived surgery with ovarian activity intact and grafts showing normal appearance. Mating occurred in four of five transplanted ewes and in five out of five controls, and three transplanted animals and five control animals conceived. In one transplanted ewe, torsion of the uterus was observed after spontaneous initiation of labour. Foeti from transplanted mothers were comparable in size to those of controls.
CONCLUSIONS: Despite the encountered complications, this is the first report to demonstrate fertility and pregnancies going to term after autotransplantation of the uterus in an animal of a comparable size to the human.