During human embryogenesis, approximately 5–6 days after fertilization, the cells of the morula begin to undergo cell differentiation, and the morula changes into the blastocyst. In the uterus the zona pellucida surrounding the blastocyst breaks down, allowing it to implant into the uterine wall approximately 6 days after fertilization. Implantation marks the end of the germinal stage of embryogenesis.
Early development of the embryo from ovulation through implantation in humans. The blastocyst stage occurs between 5 and 9 days of conception.
The zygote develops by mitosis, and when it has developed into 16 cells becomes known as the morula. Until this stage in development, all cells (blastomeres) are autonomous and not specified to any fate. In many animals, the morula then develops by cavitation to become the blastula. Cellular differentiation then develops the blastula's cells into two types: trophoblast cells that surround the blastocoel and an inner mass of cells (the embryoblast). The conceptus is then known as the blastocyst. The side of the blastocyst where the inner cellular mass forms is called the animal pole and the opposite side is the vegetal pole. The outer layer of trophoblast cells, resulting from compaction, pumps sodium ions into blastocyst, which causes water to enter through osmosis and form the internal fluid-filled blastocyst cavity (blastocoel). The blastocoel, trophoblast cells, and inner cell mass cells are hallmarks of the blastocyst.
Implantation is critical to the survival and development of the early human embryo. It establishes a connection between the mother and the early embryo which will continue through the remainder of the pregnancy. Implantation is made possible through structural changes in both the blastocyst and endometrial wall. The zona pellucida surrounding the blastocyst breaches, referred to as hatching. This removes the constraint on the physical size of the embryonic mass and exposes the outer cells of the blastocyst to the interior of the uterus. Furthermore, hormonal changes in the mother, specifically a peak in luteinizing hormone (LH), prepare the endometrium to receive and envelop the blastocyst. The immune system is also modulated to allow for the invasion of the foreign embryonic cells. Once bound to the extracellular matrix of the endometrium, trophoblast cells secrete enzymes and other factors to embed the blastocyst into the uterine wall. The enzymes released degrade the endometrial lining, while autocrine growth factors such as human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) and insulin-like growth factor (IGF) allow the blastocyst to further invade the endometrium.
Implantation in the uterine wall allows for the next step in embryogenesis, gastrulation, which includes the formation of the placenta from trophoblastic cells and differentiation of the inner cell mass into the amniotic sac and epiblast.