The peptide relaxin (RLX) was one of the first hormones to be described with a specific function in parturition. In the past ten years, there has been a revaluation of RLX physiology and the concept that sex hormones play roles that are limited to reproductive functions is rapidly changing. In this view, growing evidence indicates that the peptide hormone RLX, structurally related to insulin and insulin-like growth factor and primarily secreted by the corpus luteum during pregnancy, besides well demonstrated actions on reproductive tissues, is involved in a variety of functions. Among them, RLX influences the brain and regulates pituitary hormone secretion, causes renal vasodilatation, increases coronary flow, exerts chronotropic action on the heart and affects gastrointestinal motor responses. Recent studies suggest that in several smooth muscles the hormone appears to act by promoting the biosynthesis of nitric oxide (NO), whose altered production may be involved in smooth muscle dysmotilities. The recent cloning of the RLX receptors and studies on their possible signal transduction mechanisms are stimulating researchers to further investigate the effects of this hormone and its mechanism of action. This may lead to the discovery of agonists and antagonists for RLX and the development of new therapeutic approaches in some human diseases. The aim of this mini-review is to summarize the most recent findings on the multiple actions of RLX hoping to bring a contribution for the future perspectives in this field.
Keywords: relaxin, nitric oxide, brain, cardiovascular, fibrosis, gastrointestinal motility
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