Spontaneous preterm birth (sPTB), a major cause of infant morbidity and mortality, must involve premature cervical softening/dilation for a preterm vaginal delivery to occur. Yet, the mechanism behind premature cervical softening/dilation in humans remains unclear. We previously reported the non-pregnant human cervix contains considerably more cervical smooth muscle cells (CSMC) than historically appreciated and the CSMC organization resembles a sphincter. We hypothesize that premature cervical dilation leading to sPTB may be due to (1) an inherent CSMC contractility defect resulting in sphincter failure and/or (2) altered cervical extracellular matrix (ECM) rigidity which influences CSMC contractility. To test these hypotheses, we utilized immunohistochemistry to confirm this CSMC phenotype persists in the human pregnant cervix and then assessed in vitro arrays of contractility (F:G actin ratios, PDMS pillar arrays) using primary CSMC from pregnant women with and without premature cervical failure (PCF). We show that CSMC from pregnant women with PCF do not have an inherent CSMC contractility defect but that CSMC exhibit decreased contractility when exposed to soft ECM. Given this finding, we used UPLC-ESI-MS/MS to evaluate collagen cross-link profiles in the cervical tissue from non-pregnant women with and without PCF and found that women with PCF have decreased collagen cross-link maturity ratios, which correlates to softer cervical tissue. These findings suggest having soft cervical ECM may lead to decreased CSMC contractile tone and a predisposition to sphincter laxity that contributes to sPTB. Further studies are needed to explore the interaction between cervical ECM properties and CSMC cellular behavior when investigating the pathophysiology of sPTB.
- Extracellular matrix
- Premature cervical remodeling
- Smooth muscle
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Obstetrics and Gynecology