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Br J Obstet Gynaecol. 1984 Oct;91(10):948-67.

Endocrinology of human parturition: a review.


The existing data on the hormonal factors involved in human parturition indicate that the steroid hormones, progesterone and the oestrogens, play only a facilitatory role in the initiation of labour. A definite role for fetal adrenal steroids in this process has yet to be established, and they too may serve only a facilitating function. The stimulation of the uterine muscle during labour results from an interaction of oxytocin and prostaglandin (PG) F2 alpha. Recent evidence suggests that oxytocin is most important for the initial phase of labour, whereas increased synthesis of PGF2 alpha is essential for the progression of labour. The role of PGE2 remains unclear, but this PG may play an important role in the ripening of the cervix which in turn is essential for successful parturition. The finding of maximal oxytocin receptor concentrations in the myometrium in labour adds strong support to the notion that oxytocin is the trigger for uterine contractions. The factors which control oxytocin receptor formation are therefore important; this may be one of the processes where the steroids play a crucial role. Oxytocin is also one of the stimuli that increase uterine PG synthesis; the coupling of oxytocin receptor occupancy and PG synthetase activity in uterine tissues may be another crucial factor in the mechanism of labour. The formation of gap junctions between the myometrial cells also seems essential for the synchronization and progression of myometrial activity. We propose, therefore, that the co-ordinating of oxytocin receptor formation, PG synthesis and gap junction formation is a key to the initiation and maintenance of human labour. The fetus may fulfil such a co-ordinating role through its influence on placental oestrogen production, through mechanical distention of the uterus, and through its secretion of neuro-hypophysial hormones and other stimulators of PG synthesis.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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