Understanding Preterm Labor

Authors

  • JOHN R. G. CHALLIS,

    Corresponding author
    1. Departments of Physiology and Obstetrics & Gynaecology, University of Toronto, CIHR Group in Fetal and Neonatal Health and Development, CIHR Institute of Human Development, Child and Youth Health, Toronto, Canada
    • Address for correspondence: John R. G. Challis, University of Cambridge, Department of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, The Rosie Hospital, Robinson Way, Cambridge, England CB2 2SW. Voice: 416-978-2674; fax: 416-978-4940; j.challis@utoronto.ca.

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  • STEPHEN J. LYE,

    1. Departments of Physiology and Obstetrics & Gynaecology, University of Toronto, CIHR Group in Fetal and Neonatal Health and Development, CIHR Institute of Human Development, Child and Youth Health, Toronto, Canada
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  • WILLIAM GIBB,

    1. Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Canada
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  • WENDY WHITTLE,

    1. Departments of Physiology and Obstetrics & Gynaecology, University of Toronto, CIHR Group in Fetal and Neonatal Health and Development, CIHR Institute of Human Development, Child and Youth Health, Toronto, Canada
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  • FALGUNI PATEL,

    1. Departments of Physiology and Obstetrics & Gynaecology, University of Toronto, CIHR Group in Fetal and Neonatal Health and Development, CIHR Institute of Human Development, Child and Youth Health, Toronto, Canada
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  • NADIA ALFAIDY

    1. Departments of Physiology and Obstetrics & Gynaecology, University of Toronto, CIHR Group in Fetal and Neonatal Health and Development, CIHR Institute of Human Development, Child and Youth Health, Toronto, Canada
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Abstract

Increased uterine contractility at term and preterm results from activation and then stimulation of the myometrium. Activation can be provoked by mechanical stretch of the uterus and by an endocrine pathway resulting from increased activity of the fetal hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. In fetal sheep, increased cortisol output during pregnancy regulates prostaglandin H synthase type 2 (PGHS2) expression in the placenta in an estrogen-independent manner, resulting in increased levels of PGE2 in the fetal circulation. Later increases in maternal uterine expresssion of PGHS2 require elevations of estrogen and lead to increased concentrations of PGF2α in the maternal circulation. Thus, regulation of PGHS2 at term is differentially controlled in fetal (trophoblast) and maternal (uterine epithelium) tissue. This difference may reflect expression of the glucocorticoid receptor (GR), but not estrogen receptor (ER), in placental trophoblast cells. In women, cortisol also contributes to increased PG production in fetal tissues through upregulation of PGHS2 (amnion and chorion) and downregulation of 15-OH PG dehydrogenase (chorion trophoblasts). The effect of cortisol on chorion expression of PGDH reverses a tonic stimulatory effect of progesterone, potentially through a paracrine or autocrine action. We have interpreted this interaction as a reflection of “progesterone withdrawal” in the primate, in relation to birth. Other agents, such as proinflammatory cytokines, similarly upregulate PGHS2 and decrease expression of PGDH, indicating the presence of several mechanisms by which labor 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 the patient in preterm labor.

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