Endocrine factors and signals of fetal organ maturation are reported determinants of birth timing. To test the hypothesis that paracrine signaling by exosomes are key regulators of parturition, maternal plasma exosomes from CD-1 mice were isolated and characterized throughout gestation and the biological pathways associated with differentially-expressed cargo proteins were determined. Results indicate that the shape and size of exosomes remained constant throughout gestation; however, a progressive increase in the quantity of exosomes carrying inflammatory mediators was observed from gestation day (E)5 to E19. In addition, the effects of late-gestation (E18) plasma exosomes derived from feto-maternal uterine tissues on parturition was determined. Intraperitoneal injection of E18 exosomes into E15 mice localized in maternal reproductive tract tissues and in intrauterine fetal compartments. Compared to controls that delivered at term, preterm birth occurred in exosome-treated mice on E18 and was preceded by increased inflammatory mediators on E17 in the cervix, uterus, and fetal membranes but not in the placenta. This effect was not observed in mice injected with early-gestation (E9) exosomes. This study provides evidence that exosomes function as paracrine mediators of labor and delivery.
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