Regulation of myometrial functions during gestation, labor and birth are in the forefront of research in reproductive sciences. The complexity of the problem is reflected by our scant understanding of the intimate cellular and molecular events underlying these phenomena, despite extensive efforts spanning several decades. Unlike other smooth muscles, the myometrium is, to a large extent, under hormonal control. Of these, the steroid hormones, progesterone and estrogen, play dominant roles in terms of uterine growth, the maintenance of quiescence during gestation and the preparation of the uterus for labor and delivery. In addition to steroid hormones, there are a number of factors that modulate myometrial contractility (oxytocin, prostaglandins, endothelin, platelet activating factor) and relaxation (corticotropin releasing hormone, prostacyclin, nitric oxide). Although notable advances have been made towards understanding some of the key steps in receptor signaling that define the actions of these factors, a good deal of new information is needed to fully understand this fundamental life process. Pharmaceutical agents have been used extensively to induce labor or to prolong pregnancy in the case of preterm labor that represents the major cause of perinatal morbidity and mortality. Because preterm labor is a syndrome of multiple etiologies, pharmacologic agents will have to be targeted accordingly. This review attempts to present a critical overview of these topics.
myometrium, parturition, preterm labor, progesterone, oxytocin, prostaglandins, cytokines, endothelin, nitricoxide, crh
Department of Obstetrics,Gynecology and Women's Health, Saint Louis University School ofMedicine, St. Louis, Missouri, USA