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J Obstet Gynaecol Can. 2002 Nov;24(11):874-83.

Mechanisms of term and preterm birth.

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  • 1Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, and Cellular and Molecular Medicine, University of Ottawa; Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, Ottawa, ON, Canada.

Abstract

Labour at term and preterm results from activation and then stimulation of the myometrium. Activation can occur through mechanical stretch of the uterus, and by endocrine pathways resulting from increased activity of the fetal hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. In women and in experimental animals, cortisol likely contributes to increased prostaglandin production in fetal tissues through up-regulation of the type 2 prostaglandin H2, synthase-2 (PGHS-2) and down-regulation of 15-OH prostaglandin dehydrogenase. Cortisol increases expression of prostaglandin dehydrogenase in the chorion by reversing the stimulatory effect of progesterone, and may represent "progesterone withdrawal" in the primate. By competing with progesterone inhibition, cortisol also increases expression of placental corticotropin-releasing hormone. Other agents, such as pro-inflammatory cytokines, similarly up-regulate PGHS-2 and decrease expression of prostaglandin dehydrogenase. Oxytocin, produced locally within the intrauterine tissues, is also thought to be involved in parturition, and there is a marked increase in oxytocin receptor expression at term. There are thus several mechanisms by which labour at term or preterm may be initiated. These different mechanisms need to be considered in the development of strategies for the detection and management of women in preterm labour. Ongoing studies are investigating the use of oxytocin receptor antagonists, PGHS-2 inhibitors, and nitric oxide to prevent or regulate preterm labour. The presence of fibronectin in vaginal secretions, and elevated maternal serum levels of corticotropin-releasing hormone, estrogens, and cytokines have been examined as possible markers of preterm labour. However, at the present time, we do not have the ability to accurately predict or diagnose preterm labour, nor do we have specific or efficient methods to inhibit labour once it has started.

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PMID:
12417902
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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