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J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1995 Feb;80(2):567-72.

Estrogen stimulates oxytocin gene expression in human chorio-decidua.

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  • 1Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada.


We have recently shown that oxytocin (OT) is synthesized within human amnion, chorion, and decidua during late gestation. The levels of OT messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) increased around the time of parturition, suggesting that locally produced OT may play a role in this poorly understood process. In this report, we present results from investigations into the effects of estrogen and progesterone on the synthesis of OT by human chorio-decidua. Using an in vitro incubation system, estradiol at physiological concentrations more than doubled the concentration of OT mRNA. This was reflected by an increase in the amount of OT peptide secreted into the medium. The increase in OT mRNA was antagonized by tamoxifen, suggesting that the effects were estrogen receptor mediated. Progesterone had no effect on OT mRNA synthesis. Using ribonuclease protection assays, mRNAs for estrogen receptor (ER) and progesterone receptor (PR) were detected in all tissues examined. The highest levels were found in decidua, with lower amounts in chorion and very small amounts in amnion and placenta. This is the same relative tissue distribution that we previously demonstrated for OT mRNA. A single transcript was present for ER, and two transcripts were protected for PR. The concentrations of ER mRNA in chorio-decidua were 3-fold higher in tissues obtained after spontaneous labor onset than in tissues obtained from cesarean section at a similar gestational age but before labor onset. Levels of PR did not change significantly. We conclude that synthesis of OT in human chorio-decidua may be regulated in part by estrogen, and that regulation of ER levels may be an important factor modulating this effect. These data support the hypothesis of a paracrine network within human fetal membranes and decidua that may participate in regulating the timing of human birth.

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