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Concept: Cervix


Over 100 million women use progesterone therapies worldwide. Despite having immunomodulatory and repair properties, their effects on the outcome of viral diseases outside of the reproductive tract have not been evaluated. Administration of exogenous progesterone (at concentrations that mimic the luteal phase) to progesterone-depleted adult female mice conferred protection from both lethal and sublethal influenza A virus (IAV) infection. Progesterone treatment altered the inflammatory environment of the lungs, but had no effects on viral load. Progesterone treatment promoted faster recovery by increasing TGF-β, IL-6, IL-22, numbers of regulatory Th17 cells expressing CD39, and cellular proliferation, reducing protein leakage into the airway, improving pulmonary function, and upregulating the epidermal growth factor amphiregulin (AREG) in the lungs. Administration of rAREG to progesterone-depleted females promoted pulmonary repair and improved the outcome of IAV infection. Progesterone-treatment of AREG-deficient females could not restore protection, indicating that progesterone-mediated induction of AREG caused repair in the lungs and accelerated recovery from IAV infection. Repair and production of AREG by damaged respiratory epithelial cell cultures in vitro was increased by progesterone. Our results illustrate that progesterone is a critical host factor mediating production of AREG by epithelial cells and pulmonary tissue repair following infection, which has important implications for women’s health.

Concepts: Reproduction, Lung, Pneumonia, Epidermal growth factor, Epithelium, Skin, Cervix, Influenzavirus A


Background Despite evidence that genetic factors contribute to the duration of gestation and the risk of preterm birth, robust associations with genetic variants have not been identified. We used large data sets that included the gestational duration to determine possible genetic associations. Methods We performed a genomewide association study in a discovery set of samples obtained from 43,568 women of European ancestry using gestational duration as a continuous trait and term or preterm (<37 weeks) birth as a dichotomous outcome. We used samples from three Nordic data sets (involving a total of 8643 women) to test for replication of genomic loci that had significant genomewide association (P<5.0×10(-8)) or an association with suggestive significance (P<1.0×10(-6)) in the discovery set. Results In the discovery and replication data sets, four loci (EBF1, EEFSEC, AGTR2, and WNT4) were significantly associated with gestational duration. Functional analysis showed that an implicated variant in WNT4 alters the binding of the estrogen receptor. The association between variants in ADCY5 and RAP2C and gestational duration had suggestive significance in the discovery set and significant evidence of association in the replication sets; these variants also showed genomewide significance in a joint analysis. Common variants in EBF1, EEFSEC, and AGTR2 showed association with preterm birth with genomewide significance. An analysis of mother-infant dyads suggested that these variants act at the level of the maternal genome. Conclusions In this genomewide association study, we found that variants at the EBF1, EEFSEC, AGTR2, WNT4, ADCY5, and RAP2C loci were associated with gestational duration and variants at the EBF1, EEFSEC, and AGTR2 loci with preterm birth. Previously established roles of these genes in uterine development, maternal nutrition, and vascular control support their mechanistic involvement. (Funded by the March of Dimes and others.).

Concepts: Gene, Childbirth, Genetics, Genome, Genome-wide association study, The Association, Cervix, Gestation


Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a polymicrobial imbalance of the vaginal microbiota associated with reproductive infections, preterm birth, and other adverse health outcomes. Sialidase activity in vaginal fluids is diagnostic of BV and sialic acid-rich components of mucus have protective and immunological roles. However, while mucus degradation is believed to be important in the etiology and complications associated with BV, the role(s) of sialidases and the participation of individual bacterial species in the degradation of mucus barriers in BV have not been investigated. Here we demonstrate that the BV-associated bacterium Gardnerella vaginalis uses sialidase to break down and deplete sialic-acid-containing mucus components in the vagina. Biochemical evidence using purified sialoglycan substrates supports a model in which 1) G. vaginalis extracellular sialidase hydrolyzes mucosal sialoglycans, 2) liberated sialic acid (N-acetylneuraminic acid) is transported into the bacterium, a process inhibited by excess N-glycolylneuraminic acid, and 3) sialic acid catabolism is initiated by an intracellular aldolase/lyase mechanism. G. vaginalis engaged in sialoglycan foraging in vitro, in the presence of human vaginal mucus, and in vivo, in a murine vaginal model, in each case leading to depletion of sialic acids. Comparison of sialic acid levels in human vaginal specimens also demonstrated significant depletion of mucus sialic acids in women with BV compared to women with a normal lactobacilli-dominated microbiota. Taken together, these studies show that G. vaginalis utilizes sialidase to support the degradation, foraging, and depletion of protective host mucus barriers, and that this process of mucus barrier degradation and depletion also occurs in the clinical setting of BV.

Concepts: Childbirth, Bacteria, Cervix, Lactic acid, Vagina, Bacterial vaginosis, Gardnerella vaginalis, Clue cell


Preterm infants are at increased risk of language-related problems later in life; however, few studies have examined the effects of preterm birth on cerebral responses to speech at very early developmental stages. This study examined cerebral activation and functional connectivity in response to infant-directed speech (IDS) and adult-directed speech (ADS) in full-term neonates and preterm infants at term-equivalent age using 94-channel near-infrared spectroscopy. The results showed that compared with ADS, IDS increased activity in larger brain areas such as the bilateral frontotemporal, temporal, and temporoparietal regions, both in full-term and preterm infants. Preterm infants exhibited decreased activity in response to speech stimuli in the right temporal region compared with full-term infants, although the significance was low. Moreover, preterm infants exhibited increased interhemispheric connectivity compared with full-term controls, especially in the temporal and temporoparietal regions. These differences suggest that preterm infants may follow different developmental trajectories from those born at term owing to differences in intrauterine and extrauterine development.

Concepts: Pregnancy, Childbirth, Cerebral cortex, Cervix, Child development, Preterm birth, Infancy, Infant massage


trans-Epithelial delivery of medication across the vagina has proven successful for administration of small, lipophilic molecules such as sex steroids. However, little information is available regarding the vaginal delivery of larger and more polar molecules that currently require parenteral administration reflecting the bias that vaginal epithelium is a barrier to absorption of larger molecular weight (MW) molecules. Six healthy women underwent administration of 18 or 36mg of leuprolide, a GnRH agonist and a larger MW peptide, via a novel ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA) ring transvaginal drug delivery system (TVDS). Serum levels rose within 8h following insertion: low dose at 310pg/ml and high dose at 1220pg/ml, i.e. levels typically following parenteral injections of leuprolide. GnRHa biological activity was validated by secretion of gonadotropins and sex steroids. These results demonstrate that the non-keratinized vaginal epithelium permits a rapid absorption of a biologically active peptide and that there is significant potential for a novel TVDS to deliver peptides and possibly other macromolecules therapeutically.

Concepts: Pharmacology, Childbirth, Molecule, Peptide, Reproductive system, Cervix, Human sexuality, Vagina


Toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4) activation by bacterial infection, or by sterile inflammatory insult is a primary trigger of spontaneous preterm birth. Here we utilize mouse models to investigate the efficacy of a novel small molecule TLR4 antagonist, (+)-naloxone, the non-opioid isomer of the opioid receptor antagonist (-)-naloxone, in infection-associated preterm birth. Treatment with (+)-naloxone prevented preterm delivery and alleviated fetal demise in utero elicited by i.p. LPS administration in late gestation. A similar effect with protection from preterm birth and perinatal death, and partial correction of reduced birth weight and postnatal mortality, was conferred by (+)-naloxone administration after intrauterine administration of heat-killed E. coli. Local induction by E. coli of inflammatory cytokine genes Il1b, Il6, Tnf and Il10 in fetal membranes was suppressed by (+)-naloxone, and cytokine expression in the placenta, and uterine myometrium and decidua, was also attenuated. These data demonstrate that inhibition of TLR4 signaling with the novel TLR4 antagonist (+)-naloxone can suppress the inflammatory cascade of preterm parturition, to prevent preterm birth and perinatal death. Further studies are warranted to investigate the utility of small molecule inhibition of TLR-driven inflammation as a component of strategies for fetal protection and delaying preterm birth in the clinical setting.

Concepts: Pregnancy, Childbirth, Fetus, Uterus, Toll-like receptor, Receptor, Receptor antagonist, Cervix


Reports on bacteria detected in maternal fluids during pregnancy are typically associated with adverse consequences, and whether the female reproductive tract harbours distinct microbial communities beyond the vagina has been a matter of debate. Here we systematically sample the microbiota within the female reproductive tract in 110 women of reproductive age, and examine the nature of colonisation by 16S rRNA gene amplicon sequencing and cultivation. We find distinct microbial communities in cervical canal, uterus, fallopian tubes and peritoneal fluid, differing from that of the vagina. The results reflect a microbiota continuum along the female reproductive tract, indicative of a non-sterile environment. We also identify microbial taxa and potential functions that correlate with the menstrual cycle or are over-represented in subjects with adenomyosis or infertility due to endometriosis. The study provides insight into the nature of the vagino-uterine microbiome, and suggests that surveying the vaginal or cervical microbiota might be useful for detection of common diseases in the upper reproductive tract.Whether the female reproductive tract harbours distinct microbiomes beyond the vagina has been a matter of debate. Here, the authors show a subject-specific continuity in microbial communities at six sites along the female reproductive tract, indicative of a non-sterile environment.

Concepts: Uterus, 16S ribosomal RNA, Reproductive system, Menstrual cycle, Female reproductive system, Endometrium, Cervix, Vagina


The endocrine system dynamically controls tissue differentiation and homeostasis, but has not been studied using dynamic tissue culture paradigms. Here we show that a microfluidic system supports murine ovarian follicles to produce the human 28-day menstrual cycle hormone profile, which controls human female reproductive tract and peripheral tissue dynamics in single, dual and multiple unit microfluidic platforms (Solo-MFP, Duet-MFP and Quintet-MPF, respectively). These systems simulate the in vivo female reproductive tract and the endocrine loops between organ modules for the ovary, fallopian tube, uterus, cervix and liver, with a sustained circulating flow between all tissues. The reproductive tract tissues and peripheral organs integrated into a microfluidic platform, termed EVATAR, represents a powerful new in vitro tool that allows organ-organ integration of hormonal signalling as a phenocopy of menstrual cycle and pregnancy-like endocrine loops and has great potential to be used in drug discovery and toxicology studies.

Concepts: Menopause, Reproductive system, Menstrual cycle, Female reproductive system, Cervix, Puberty, Ovulation, Ovary


Despite the critical role of the human microbiota in health, our understanding of microbiota compositional dynamics during and after pregnancy is incomplete. We conducted a case-control study of 49 pregnant women, 15 of whom delivered preterm. From 40 of these women, we analyzed bacterial taxonomic composition of 3,767 specimens collected prospectively and weekly during gestation and monthly after delivery from the vagina, distal gut, saliva, and tooth/gum. Linear mixed-effects modeling, medoid-based clustering, and Markov chain modeling were used to analyze community temporal trends, community structure, and vaginal community state transitions. Microbiota community taxonomic composition and diversity remained remarkably stable at all four body sites during pregnancy (P > 0.05 for trends over time). Prevalence of a Lactobacillus-poor vaginal community state type (CST 4) was inversely correlated with gestational age at delivery (P = 0.0039). Risk for preterm birth was more pronounced for subjects with CST 4 accompanied by elevated Gardnerella or Ureaplasma abundances. This finding was validated with a set of 246 vaginal specimens from nine women (four of whom delivered preterm). Most women experienced a postdelivery disturbance in the vaginal community characterized by a decrease in Lactobacillus species and an increase in diverse anaerobes such as Peptoniphilus, Prevotella, and Anaerococcus species. This disturbance was unrelated to gestational age at delivery and persisted for up to 1 y. These findings have important implications for predicting premature labor, a major global health problem, and for understanding the potential impact of a persistent, altered postpartum microbiota on maternal health, including outcomes of pregnancies following short interpregnancy intervals.

Concepts: Pregnancy, Childbirth, Embryo, Prenatal development, Fetus, Uterus, Obstetrics, Cervix


Oxidative stress (OS)-induced senescence of the amniochorion has been associated with parturition at term. We investigated whether telomere fragments shed into the amniotic fluid (AF) correlated with labor status and tested if exogenous telomere fragments (T-oligos) could induce human and murine amnion cell senescence. In a cross-sectional clinical study, AF telomere fragment concentrations quantitated by a validated real-time PCR assay were higher in women in labor at term compared to those not in labor. In vitro treatment of primary human amnion epithelial cells with 40 μM T-oligos ([TTAGGG]2) that mimic telomere fragments, activated p38MAPK, produced senescence-associated (SA) β-gal staining and increased interleukin (IL)-6 and IL-8 production compared to cells treated with complementary DNA sequences (Cont-oligos, [AATCCC]2). T-oligos injected into the uteri of pregnant CD1 mice on day 14 of gestation, led to increased p38MAPK, SA-β-gal (SA β-gal) staining in murine amniotic sacs and higher AF IL-8 levels on day 18, compared to saline treated controls. In summary, term labor AF samples had higher telomere fragments than term not in labor AF. In vitro and in situ telomere fragments increased human and murine amnion p38MAPK, senescence and inflammatory cytokines. We propose that telomere fragments released from senescent fetal cells are indicative of fetal cell aging. Based on our data, these telomere fragments cause oxidative stress associated damages to the term amniotic sac and force them to release other DAMPS, which, in turn, provide a sterile immune response that may be one of the many inflammatory signals required to initiate parturition at term.

Concepts: DNA, Pregnancy, Childbirth, Human, Senescence, Uterus, Amniotic sac, Cervix