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Keywords:

  • Infection;
  • nonhuman primate;
  • preterm labour

Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Technical approach and set up of the NHP model
  5. Induction of PTL
  6. Response to antibiotics and immunomodulators
  7. Systems biology and identification of diagnostic markers
  8. Conclusions
  9. Disclosure of interests
  10. Contribution to authorship
  11. Details of ethics approval
  12. Funding
  13. Acknowledgements
  14. References

Please cite this paper as: Adams Waldorf K, Rubens C, Gravett M. Use of nonhuman primate models to investigate mechanisms of infection-associated preterm birth. BJOG 2011;118:136–144.

Preterm birth is the most important direct cause of neonatal mortality and remains a major challenge for obstetrics and global health. Intrauterine infection causes approximately 50% of early preterm births. Animal models using pregnant mice, rabbits or sheep demonstrate the key link between infection and premature birth, but differ in the mechanisms of parturition and placental structure from humans. The nonhuman primate (NHP) is a powerful model which emulates many features of human placentation and parturition. The contributions of the NHP model to preterm birth research are reviewed, emphasising the role of infections and the potential development of preventative and therapeutic strategies.


Introduction

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Technical approach and set up of the NHP model
  5. Induction of PTL
  6. Response to antibiotics and immunomodulators
  7. Systems biology and identification of diagnostic markers
  8. Conclusions
  9. Disclosure of interests
  10. Contribution to authorship
  11. Details of ethics approval
  12. Funding
  13. Acknowledgements
  14. References

Preterm birth, defined as birth before 37 weeks of gestation, remains a major challenge in obstetrics and is the most important direct cause of neonatal mortality, accounting worldwide for more than 1 million neonatal deaths annually.1 Of the 4 million neonatal deaths each year, preterm birth is a risk factor in 50%.2 Further, the preterm birth rate has been increasing in many countries. Preterm birth now occurs in nearly one in every eight pregnancies, with an annual economic burden of 26 billion dollars in the USA.3 A large body of evidence suggests that up to 50% of premature births of <30 weeks of gestation, for which neonatal morbidity and mortality are highest, are caused by intrauterine infections, including chorioamnionitis.4

An ascending infection from the lower genital tract is thought to be the source of most intrauterine infections. This premise is supported by observations that bacteria recovered from the amniotic fluid are indigenous to the vagina, including Gram-negative (e.g. Escherichia coli, Gardnerella vaginalis), Gram-positive (group B Streptococcus, GBS) and anaerobic (Mycoplasma hominis) bacteria.5–7 Factors mediating or inhibiting bacterial traffic from the vagina into the lower uterine segment and amniotic fluid are unknown. Once bacteria are in contact with placental tissues, a pro-inflammatory response can be initiated that leads to preterm labour (PTL) and fetal injury (e.g. white matter and lung). The inflammatory mediators implicated in preterm birth include interleukin-1β (IL-1β),8 interleukin-6 (IL-6),9 interleukin-8 (IL-8)10 and tumour necrosis factor-α (TNF-α).11 A role for pro-inflammatory cytokines/chemokines in the development of PTL is based on the following observations: (1) elevated amniotic fluid cytokines in humans and rabbits with intra-amniotic infection/inflammation (IAI) and PTL;12–14 (2) bacterial products stimulate the production of cytokines by human amniotic epithelium, decidua and trophoblast;15,16 (3) these cytokines stimulate prostaglandin production in decidual explants and amniotic epithelial cell lines in vitro;17,18 and (4) recombinant IL-1β induces PTL in pregnant nonhuman primates (NHPs) or mice (systemic or intrauterine).19,20 Other important downstream inflammatory mediators of infection-induced PTL include prostaglandins and matrix metalloproteinases, which enhance myometrial contractility and weaken the collagen structure of the membranes, respectively. Human studies in pregnant women have not adequately clarified the temporal relationships between these inflammatory mediators, which would allow the study of the pathophysiology of PTL and lead to opportunities for preventative and therapeutic discovery.

Although a number of barriers have prevented the discovery of an effective therapy for PTL, one major reason is the lack of a widely available and inexpensive animal model that closely emulates human disease. Animal models using pregnant mice, rabbits or sheep have strengthened the causal link between intrauterine infection and premature birth, but differ sufficiently from women in both placentation and hormonal events surrounding parturition to limit application to human PTL (Table 1). Generally, these studies have restricted their design to cross-sectional observations at the time of delivery, as in human studies. Consequently, they have not clearly defined the sequence of mechanisms by which intrauterine infection causes premature contractions, cervical change and, ultimately, preterm delivery. To more closely emulate human PTL, we and others21 have used a chronically instrumented NHP model with either pregnant rhesus or pigtail macaques, in which both placentation and the endocrinology of pregnancy are similar to humans. These advantages must be tempered against the limited availability and expense of NHPs. Nevertheless, the NHP model has provided a useful means to study in vivo the temporal relationships between infection, the immune system and uterine contractility, even in the relatively inaccessible intrauterine and intra-amniotic compartments. The ability to correlate information from maternal, fetal and amniotic fluid samples with uterine activity and fetal tissues allows one to answer questions, such as: (1) why is infection-induced PTL refractory to antibiotics and tocolysis?, and (2) what are the critical mediators of PTL and fetal injury, and how can they be inhibited? Answering these questions is critical to the development of rational and efficacious strategies to prevent preterm birth. If interventions to prevent preterm birth and fetal injury are to become realistic goals, the pathways activated in the uterus, placenta and fetus in response to infection and inflammation need to be elucidated in a model which emulates human disease. This model and the lessons learned are outlined below.

Table 1.   Comparison of animal models focusing on the characteristics of gestation, parturition, and relative advantages and disadvantages of each model
  1. ACTH, adrenocorticotrophin-releasing hormone; IL, interleukin; LPS, lipopolysaccharide; SD, standard deviation.

CharacteristicHumanMonkeySheepGuinea pigMouse
Gestational length in days (mean ± SD)280 ± 14167 ± 7 (Macaca mulatta) 172 ± 7 (Macaca nemestrina)144–15160–7019–21
Litter size (mean or range)111–32–410–12 (strain specific)
PlacentaHaemomonochorial, villous, discoidHaemomonochorial, villous, bidiscoidEpithelial-chorial, cotyledonaryHaemomonochorial, labyrinthine, discoidHaemotrichorial, labyrinthine
UterusUnicornuateUnicornuateBicornuateDuplex uterus (two uterine horns, two cervices)
Induction of preterm birthProstaglandin, anti-progestin, oxytocinInoculation of bacteria, LPS or cytokines (IL-1β)Fetal ACTH, glucocorticoid, anti-progestinProstaglandin, anti-progestin, oxytocinAnti-progestin, ovariectomy
Advantages/disadvantagesDirectly translational, but limited to cross-sectional analysisDirectly translational, but expensive and limited in availabilityChronically catheterised model possibleSimilar placenta to humans, but spontaneous preterm birth can occurLow cost, small size

Technical approach and set up of the NHP model

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Technical approach and set up of the NHP model
  5. Induction of PTL
  6. Response to antibiotics and immunomodulators
  7. Systems biology and identification of diagnostic markers
  8. Conclusions
  9. Disclosure of interests
  10. Contribution to authorship
  11. Details of ethics approval
  12. Funding
  13. Acknowledgements
  14. References

Pregnancy in NHPs emulates human pregnancy on the basis of multiple similar features, including uterine anatomy, singleton gestation, haemochorial placentation, hormonal control of parturition (initiation of labour) and microbial communities within the vagina. In our NHP model, we utilised both Macaca mulatta (rhesus macaque) and Macaca nemestrina (pigtail macaque) to study intrauterine infection and the pathogenesis of PTL and neonatal sequelae. Pregnant monkeys with timed mated gestations were conditioned to a jacket-tether system for several weeks prior to catheterisation surgery to allow acclimatisation (Figure 1). The tether system allowed the animal 360° of movement within the cage, and the animal retained the same mobility within the cage as was possible without the jacket-tether.21,22 On pregnancy day 118–125 (term 167–172 days; approximately 28–29 weeks of human gestation), intrauterine surgery was performed with implantation of fetal electrocardiogram (ECG) electrodes, amniotic fluid catheters, a maternal temperature probe, maternal and fetal vascular catheters, and a catheter into choriodecidual space.23 All catheters were tunnelled under the animal’s skin and exited from the upper back into a metal, flexible tether, which protected the catheters. For the next 10 days, the animal was allowed to recover from surgery. Analgesics, cefazolin and terbutaline sulphate were administered for up to 7 days to control post-operative pain and uterine irritability. Cefazolin and terbutaline were discontinued at least 72 hours prior to inoculation of bacteria in order to ensure an adequate drug washout period.

image

Figure 1.  Jacket-tether system used most recently at the Washington National Primate Research Center, allowing the animal 360° of motion. As the animal turns, the equipment at the top of the cage spins on a swivel to prevent tangling of the catheters. ECG, electrocardiogram; IV, intravenous.

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After the animal had recovered from surgery, the experimental phase was started. Many different experimental protocols have been used in this model to induce or simulate intrauterine infection and PTL. The inoculation of bacteria into the amniotic fluid is meant to replicate the end stage of an intrauterine infection. More recently, experiments to inoculate bacteria into the choriodecidual space have attempted to replicate earlier events in the pathogenesis of PTL. The choriodecidual space is a potential space between the myometrium and the fetal membranes; in the lower uterine segment, this space represents the first placental site in contact with bacteria trafficking from the lower genital tract into the uterus. In addition to bacteria, bacterial products (lipopolysaccharide, LPS), cytokines and immunomodulators have been infused into either the amniotic fluid or choriodecidual space in past experiments. Following inoculation, amniotic fluid, maternal blood and fetal blood were serially sampled. Uterine contractions, fetal heart rate and maternal temperature were monitored continuously. Caesarean section may then be performed at a predetermined time or once labour begins. The performance of a caesarean section is important to recover myometrial biopsies as well as placenta, which is often ingested by the animal following birth. Several types of fetal tissue (e.g. fetal lung and brain) were also recovered and rapidly preserved, enabling a variety of analyses to characterise fetal injury. At the time of caesarean section, the catheters were removed. Analgesics and antibiotics (if necessary) were administered for 7–14 days until the animal had recovered and could be returned to the colony.

Induction of PTL

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Technical approach and set up of the NHP model
  5. Induction of PTL
  6. Response to antibiotics and immunomodulators
  7. Systems biology and identification of diagnostic markers
  8. Conclusions
  9. Disclosure of interests
  10. Contribution to authorship
  11. Details of ethics approval
  12. Funding
  13. Acknowledgements
  14. References

The NHP model of infection-induced PTL was originally characterised in rhesus macaques with GBS, a common pathogen in both maternal and neonatal infections.23 In this model, intense PTL occurred, on average, 28 hours after intra-amniotic infusion of 1 × 106 colony-forming units (cfu) of GBS (range 14–40 hours). In all animals, this uterine activity led to progressive cervical effacement or dilatation. In contrast, control animals undergoing only surgery and catheter implantation delivered approximately 30 days later, near term (∼160 days, with term being 167 days in rhesus macaques). Amniotic fluid concentrations of cytokines (IL-1β, IL-6, TNF-α) increased dramatically, followed by increases in prostaglandins (PGE2, PGF) and, finally, uterine contractility. At fetal necropsy, bacteria were cultured from the fetal lungs and meninges. Neonatal pneumonia was diagnosed on the basis of neutrophil infiltration into the fetal pulmonary alveoli. This study represented the first work to establish the temporal relationship between the activation of the cytokine–prostaglandin cascade and PTL.

The IAI model is limited by replicating only the end stage of what is presumed to be the result of an ascending infection from the lower genital tract. Infection-associated preterm birth is thought to occur from an ascending infection from microorganisms arising from the lower genital tract. This is supported by the clinical observation in women that bacteria recovered from the amniotic fluid and extraplacental membranes are also commonly found in the lower genital tract.5,24 We therefore modified our model to induce experimental choriodecidual infection by direct inoculation of GBS via an indwelling catheter placed in the choriodecidual space, between the myometrium and the fetal membranes in the lower uterine segment.25 Unexpectedly, inoculation with a low dose of GBS (102–104 cfu/ml) did not result in PTL, and the organisms were cleared. In contrast, inoculation with higher doses (104–106 cfu/ml) consistently led to amniotic fluid infection and PTL. These data provide evidence that choriodecidual inflammation is a transitional stage of ascending infection and is dependent on bacterial inoculum and host response.

Purified cytokines have also been inoculated into this model to try to clarify the functional role of individual cytokines, because cytokine antagonists exist and certain immunomodulators can suppress specific cytokines. Significant elevations of the pro-inflammatory cytokines IL-1β, TNF-α, IL-6 and IL-8 have been reported in the setting of IAI in women, NHP and other animals.8–11,23 There is some evidence that IL-1β and TNF-α may play a greater role than IL-6 in PTL. In genetically altered mice, both IL-1β and TNF-α receptors are necessary for infection-induced preterm birth.20 In contrast, intrauterine infusions of IL-6 did not induce preterm birth, and the absence of IL-6 (knockout mice) did not prevent preterm birth induced by heat-killed E. coli.26 To compare the relative ability of individual cytokines to stimulate PTL in NHP without the confounding influences of infection, we infused single pro-inflammatory cytokines (10 μg of recombinant IL-1β, 10–100 μg of recombinant human or rhesus TNF-α or 20 μg of human IL-6 or IL-8, twice a day until delivery) directly into the amniotic fluid.19 Increases in uterine contractility and PTL occurred only following IAI infusion of IL-1β (100% of animals) or TNF-α (40% of animals). No animals receiving intra-amniotic IL-6 or IL-8 infusions experienced PTL, despite significant and sustained increases in the amniotic fluid concentrations of these cytokines to levels seen in IAI. Whether these cytokine effects might be gestational age specific could not be assessed as the animals were similar in gestational age at the time of cytokine infusion. These data provide direct evidence of the role of IL-1β and TNF-α in the pathogenesis of infection-associated PTL, and confirm the observations in genetically altered mice.

Response to antibiotics and immunomodulators

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Technical approach and set up of the NHP model
  5. Induction of PTL
  6. Response to antibiotics and immunomodulators
  7. Systems biology and identification of diagnostic markers
  8. Conclusions
  9. Disclosure of interests
  10. Contribution to authorship
  11. Details of ethics approval
  12. Funding
  13. Acknowledgements
  14. References

The observations summarised above demonstrate the temporal relationships between infection (either intra-amniotic or choriodecidual), pro-inflammatory cytokines, prostaglandins and preterm contractions, and establish specifically a critical role for IL-1β and TNF-α. We now turn to address the important question of why antibiotics and tocolytics do not prolong gestation in the setting of infection. The failure of antibiotics to delay or prevent infection-induced birth is probably multifactorial, but one major reason may be a failure to inhibit the pro-inflammatory mediators that play a critical role in the initiation of labour. To investigate this hypothesis, we treated monkeys following experimental infection-induced PTL with antibiotics alone or antibiotics and immunosuppressants.27 Then, we compared the time from the onset of PTL to delivery with animals that were similarly infected, but not treated (Figure 2). The immunosuppressants used in this study included dexamethasone, a nonspecific anti-inflammatory drug, and indomethacin, an inhibitor of prostaglandin synthesis. The average time from the onset of uterine contractions until delivery was 33 hours after GBS IAI and no treatment, which did not differ significantly from that in animals treated with antibiotics alone (81 hours). In contrast, the pregnancies among animals treated with both antibiotics and immunosuppressants were significantly prolonged and delivered, on average, at 213 hours; four of five animals had prolongation of pregnancy >10 days and delivered near term. Although antibiotic therapy alone eradicated or reduced bacteria from amniotic fluid and fetal compartments, as detected by microbial culture, amniotic fluid cytokine and prostaglandin concentrations remained significantly elevated until delivery. In contrast, treatment with antibiotics and immunosuppressants resulted in prompt reductions in cytokines and prostaglandins until near delivery. Interestingly, the up-regulation of matrix metalloproteinases, seen in the setting of infection-induced PTL, was not affected by any treatment, although premature rupture did not occur in any animal. Although these observations provide a basis for future human trials utilising combined antibiotics and immunosuppressants, caution must be exercised. Further study is required to demonstrate fetal safety, as well as efficacy, in animal models.

image

Figure 2.  Serial changes after experimental intra-amniotic group B Streptococcus (GBS) inoculation in uterine contractility, GBS [colony-forming units (cfu)/ml], pro-inflammatory cytokines and prostaglandins for single representative animals in each treatment group: (A) control; (B) ampicillin alone; (C) ampicillin, dexamethasone and indomethacin. The x-axis represents the gestational age in days. The y-axis is the hourly contraction area, or the quantity of GBS (cfu/ml; red line), amniotic fluid interleukin-1β (IL-1β; blue line) or prostaglandin E2 (PGE2; green line). The length of time that a particular drug was administered is indicated above (B) and (C). Reprinted from the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, with permission of Elsevier, and modified.27

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The reason why the cytokine–prostaglandin inflammatory response remained elevated despite the eradication of bacteria by antibiotics is probably a result of continued recognition of pathogenic ligands created by bacteriolysis by the innate immune system through Toll-like receptors (TLRs). TLRs are a family of pattern recognition receptors, which act as the principal sensors of bacterial pathogens to activate the innate and adaptive immune systems.28 Activation of TLR2, TLR3 and TLR4 has been associated with PTL in murine and NHP animal models.29–31 Pathogen particles derived from GBS signal through TLR1, TLR2 and TLR6, which would be expected to induce cytokines and augment PTL.32 Cytokines are temporarily suppressed with antibiotics and immunosuppressants in our GBS model, but whether fetal injury might occur in utero as a result of some degree of TLR activation and cytokine production during prolongation of pregnancy is unknown.27 We therefore reasoned that the blockade of pathogen recognition by TLR antagonists may be more efficient than the blockade of downstream effectors, such as cytokines or prostaglandins, at delaying preterm birth. This concept was tested in our NHP model by blocking a single TLR to a specific pathogen particle.29 TLR4 recognises LPS, the major component of the outer membrane of Gram-negative bacteria, and results in pro-inflammatory cytokine gene expression.33–35 Many pathogens commonly associated with IAI contain LPS and are thought to signal using TLR4, including E. coli, G. vaginalis, Fusobacterium36 and Bacteroides.37 TLR4 is also highly expressed by many placental tissues, including amniotic epithelium, immune cells within the membranes and decidua, and chorionic villi.38,39 TLR4 signaling is probably an early event during Gram-negative bacterial infection in fetal membranes, and is required for LPS-induced preterm birth.29,30,38

Natural TLR4 antagonists exist and represent minor structural variations in the toxic portion of LPS, called lipid A.40,41 We chose to test the ability of a TLR4 antagonist (TLR4A) to inhibit LPS-induced PTL by pretreating the amniotic cavity for 1 hour before LPS inoculation; drug failure in this circumstance would have suggested drug degradation, binding or transplacental transfer. Gestational length was compared in three groups of M. mulatta receiving either intra-amniotic LPS or TLR4A followed by LPS 1 hour later (Figure 3).29 LPS inoculation was associated with significant increases in uterine contractility, with peak uterine activity achieved within 4–6 days. Pretreatment with a TLR4 antagonist largely ablated the increase in uterine contractility observed in LPS-only animals; uterine contractility in the TLR4A group did not differ significantly from that in saline controls. In animals treated with TLR4A, a repeat LPS challenge 1 week later was associated with only modest increases in uterine activity, but, in one animal, it triggered PTL. Pretreatment with TLR4A was also associated with decreases in IL-1β and significant reductions in TNF-α, IL-8 and PGE2, compared with LPS infusion alone. Amniotic fluid leucocytes followed a similar pattern to that of cytokines and prostaglandins, and were increased significantly with LPS infusion alone versus saline controls, and reduced by TLR4A pretreatment. Overall, the TLR4 antagonist was associated with the most profound suppression of LPS or infection-induced prostaglandins (PGE2, PGF) and cytokines (IL-1β, TNF-α) in comparison with all other immunomodulators (i.e. dexamethasone, cytokine antagonists, indomethacin) previously tested in our model.

image

Figure 3.  Temporal relationships between lipopolysaccharide (LPS) inoculation, uterine activity, and amniotic fluid cytokines and prostaglandins in representative animals from each experimental group receiving LPS only (A) and intra-amniotic Toll-like receptor 4 antagonist (TLR4A; green arrowhead) 1 hour prior to intra-amniotic LPS (B). The x-axis represents the gestational age in days, ranging from vascular implantation surgery until caesarean delivery. The y-axis is the hourly contraction area, or the level of amniotic fluid tumour necrosis factor-α (TNF-α; orange line) or prostaglandin E2 (PGE2; blue line). Reprinted with permission.46 2007 American Chemical Society.

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Systems biology and identification of diagnostic markers

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Technical approach and set up of the NHP model
  5. Induction of PTL
  6. Response to antibiotics and immunomodulators
  7. Systems biology and identification of diagnostic markers
  8. Conclusions
  9. Disclosure of interests
  10. Contribution to authorship
  11. Details of ethics approval
  12. Funding
  13. Acknowledgements
  14. References

The observations above suggest that early intervention in IAI with antibiotics and immunomodulators may prolong gestation. Furthermore, studies in women with IAI indicate that timely intrapartum antibiotic therapy reduces the risk of neonatal sepsis when compared with therapy initiated after birth.42,43 The early diagnosis of IAI would facilitate timely and appropriate interventions. However, the early diagnosis of IAI is difficult because clinical signs and symptoms tend to be late manifestations, and adjunctive laboratory tests (e.g. maternal white blood cell count) have limited predictive value or require an invasive amniocentesis to examine amniotic fluid directly.44 Utilising multiple proteomic approaches, we characterised the NHP amniotic fluid and cervical–vaginal fluid (CVF) proteome to identify potential early biomarkers of IAI.45,46 We identified multiple proteins, including azurocidin, calgranulin B and a proteolytic fragment of insulin-like growth factor binding protein-1, in the amniotic fluid that were differentially expressed as early as 12 hours after experimental IAI and before clinical signs or symptoms of infection. We then validated these biomarkers among a cohort of women in PTL with intact fetal membranes with and without IAI, with a sensitivity of 100% and a specificity of 91%.45 However, the detection of these biomarkers in women requires amniocentesis, a procedure many providers are reluctant to perform in women with PTL.

To develop a noninvasive test, we next sought to determine whether proteomic evaluation of the biomarkers identified within amniotic fluid might also be possible in the CVF of women with intact membranes, and thus forego the need for amniocentesis. Multidimensional liquid chromatography coupled to tandem mass spectrometry identified a total of 205 unique proteins within CVF.46 Functional annotation of the CVF proteome showed that the majority were associated with metabolism (25%) or immune response (23%). Twenty-seven proteins were differentially abundant following experimental IAI with Ureaplasma parvum, a common isolate from amniotic fluid in the setting of infection, including those previously identified in amniotic fluid. The detection of differentially expressed proteins within CVF in this proof-of-concept study in NHPs provided a rationale to develop reliable noninvasive tests to aid in the diagnosis in women. In a subsequent study of the CVF of 170 women in PTL with intact fetal membranes, we identified 15 differentially expressed proteins associated with subclinical IAI.47 The performance characteristics of potential biomarkers were analysed by receiver operator characteristic curves. A four-analyte immunoassay panel developed from these differentially expressed proteins, including α1-acid glycoprotein, insulin-like growth factor binding protein-1, calgranulin C and cystatin A, was able to correctly classify 89% of patients as infected or not infected. These data may facilitate the development of rapid, noninvasive and reliable tests for IAI, and are an excellent example of the direct translational relevance from the NHP model.

Conclusions

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Technical approach and set up of the NHP model
  5. Induction of PTL
  6. Response to antibiotics and immunomodulators
  7. Systems biology and identification of diagnostic markers
  8. Conclusions
  9. Disclosure of interests
  10. Contribution to authorship
  11. Details of ethics approval
  12. Funding
  13. Acknowledgements
  14. References

We have described how the NHP model can be utilised to understand the pathogenesis of PTL, including the identification of key inflammatory pathways which participate in this complex syndrome. The NHP model emulates human PTL, including the physiology of myometrial contractions, the expression of inflammatory markers, the response to antibiotics and anti-inflammatory agents, and the histopathological findings of placental and fetal injury. Our experimental approach provides the control of the experimental conditions before, during and after PTL and birth. Maternal and fetal samples collected during the experiments lay the foundation for the evaluation of the role of the hormonal axis, myometrial physiology, maternal/fetal inflammatory responses and early events in choriodecidual inflammation that predispose to IAI and ultimate preterm delivery. This model now creates the opportunity to fully explore in more robust detail many of the mechanisms, such as infection and inflammation, which are involved in the initiation of PTL. In addition, our data have started to demonstrate the important signals that occur between mother and fetus in the early response to infection, even in the absence of overt IAI. The advantages of this animal model must also be tempered by the limitations of cost and availability to most scientists in the field. The implementation of the chronically catheterised NHP model also requires a highly experienced surgical and technical staff to set up the model and to ensure proper functioning of the catheters throughout the experiment. We are now pursuing additional studies on the role of intrauterine stretch, as well as characterising the hormonal signals that precede the initiation of PTL.

The high rate of preterm birth observed in the developing and developed world, and its contribution to neonatal mortality in all countries, underscores the importance of research efforts to prevent it. We require diagnostics to identify women at risk of preterm delivery. Our recent observations of protein biomarkers from the NHP model using a systems biology approach appears to emulate similar findings for PTL in women. Thus, there is an exciting opportunity to extend these studies to define the important mechanisms that control normal pregnancy. These findings could help us to characterise what leads to PTL and delivery in different populations, such as African Americans and Native Americans, who show very high rates of premature birth and infant mortality. As our understanding of the initiating events and complex pathways involved in PTL and delivery increases, we hope to predict women at risk via new diagnostics, so that we can implement prevention strategies and more effective therapies to decrease the significant morbidity and mortality of the preterm infant.

Disclosure of interests

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Technical approach and set up of the NHP model
  5. Induction of PTL
  6. Response to antibiotics and immunomodulators
  7. Systems biology and identification of diagnostic markers
  8. Conclusions
  9. Disclosure of interests
  10. Contribution to authorship
  11. Details of ethics approval
  12. Funding
  13. Acknowledgements
  14. References

KMAW and CER have no conflicts of interest to disclose. MGG has a financial interest in ProteoGenix, Inc., which supported, in part, the proteomics work. This company may have a commercial interest in the results of this research and technology. This potential conflict of interest has been reviewed and a management plan has been approved by the Oregon Health Sciences University Conflict of Interest in Research Committee and the University of Washington.

Details of ethics approval

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Technical approach and set up of the NHP model
  5. Induction of PTL
  6. Response to antibiotics and immunomodulators
  7. Systems biology and identification of diagnostic markers
  8. Conclusions
  9. Disclosure of interests
  10. Contribution to authorship
  11. Details of ethics approval
  12. Funding
  13. Acknowledgements
  14. References

Study protocols were approved by the Institutional Animal Care and Utilization Committee at the Oregon and Washington National Primate Research Centers, and guidelines for humane care were followed. The most recent approval of these long-standing studies is at the Washington National Primate Research Center and is #4165 (Washington National Primate Research Center, 2/11/2011).

Funding

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Technical approach and set up of the NHP model
  5. Induction of PTL
  6. Response to antibiotics and immunomodulators
  7. Systems biology and identification of diagnostic markers
  8. Conclusions
  9. Disclosure of interests
  10. Contribution to authorship
  11. Details of ethics approval
  12. Funding
  13. Acknowledgements
  14. References

The NHP work described was supported by grants from the March of Dimes and National Institutes of Health HD06159, HD18185, HD01264, HD41676, RR00163, AI42490, AI067910 and AI42490. Proteogenix, Inc. supported, in part, the proteomics portion of the work in the diagnostics section.

References

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Technical approach and set up of the NHP model
  5. Induction of PTL
  6. Response to antibiotics and immunomodulators
  7. Systems biology and identification of diagnostic markers
  8. Conclusions
  9. Disclosure of interests
  10. Contribution to authorship
  11. Details of ethics approval
  12. Funding
  13. Acknowledgements
  14. References
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    Lawn JE, Cousens S, Zupan J. 4 million neonatal deaths: when? Where? Why? Lancet 2005;365:891900.
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    BerhmanRE, ButlerAS, editors. Committee on Understanding Premature Birth and Assuring Healthy Outcomes, BoHSP, Institute of Medicine. Preterm Birth: Causes, Consequences, and Prevention. Washington DC: National Academies Press, 2006.
  • 4
    Goldenberg RL, Hauth JC, Andrews WW. Intrauterine infection and preterm delivery. N Engl J Med 2000;342:15007.
  • 5
    Hillier SL, Martius J, Krohn M, Kiviat N, Holmes KK, Eschenbach DA. A case–control study of chorioamnionic infection and histologic chorioamnionitis in prematurity. N Engl J Med 1988;319:9728.
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    Romero R, Sirtori M, Oyarzun E, Avila C, Mazor M, Callahan R, et al. Infection and labor. V. Prevalence, microbiology, and clinical significance of intraamniotic infection in women with preterm labor and intact membranes. Am J Obstet Gynecol 1989;161:81724.
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    Hillier SL, Krohn MA, Kiviat NB, Watts DH, Eschenbach DA. Microbiologic causes and neonatal outcomes associated with chorioamnion infection. Am J Obstet Gynecol 1991;165:95561.
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    Romero R, Brody DT, Oyarzun E, Mazor M, Wu YK, Hobbins JC, et al. Infection and labor. III. Interleukin-1: a signal for the onset of parturition. Am J Obstet Gynecol 1989;160:111723.
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