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J Clin Invest. 2011 May;121(5):2048-59. doi: 10.1172/JCI45636. Epub 2011 Apr 25.

Extracellular matrix proteases contribute to progression of pelvic organ prolapse in mice and humans.

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Department of Molecular Biology, University of Texas, Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, Texas, USA.


Pelvic organ prolapse (POP) is a common condition affecting almost half of women over the age of 50. The molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying this condition, however, remain poorly understood. Here we have reported that fibulin-5, an integrin-binding matricellular protein that is essential for elastic fiber assembly, regulated the activity of MMP-9 to maintain integrity of the vaginal wall and prevented development of POP. In murine vaginal stromal cells, fibulin-5 inhibited the β1 integrin-dependent, fibronectin-mediated upregulation of MMP-9. Mice in which the integrin-binding motif was mutated to an integrin-disrupting motif (Fbln5RGE/RGE) exhibited upregulation of MMP-9 in vaginal tissues. In contrast to fibulin-5 knockouts (Fbln5-/-), Fbln5RGE/RGE mice were able to form intact elastic fibers and did not exhibit POP. However, treatment of mice with β-aminopropionitrile (BAPN), an inhibitor of matrix cross-linking enzymes, induced subclinical POP. Conversely, deletion of Mmp9 in Fbln5-/- mice significantly attenuated POP by increasing elastic fiber density and improving collagen fibrils. Vaginal tissue samples from pre- and postmenopausal women with POP also displayed significantly increased levels of MMP-9. These results suggest that POP is an acquired disorder of extracellular matrix and that therapies targeting matrix proteases may be successful for preventing or ameliorating POP in women.

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