Background: Preterm labor, failure to progress, and postpartum hemorrhage are the common causes of maternal and neonatal mortality or morbidity. All result from defects in the complex mechanisms controlling labor, which coordinate changes in the uterine fundus, lower segment, and cervix. We aimed to assess labor-associated gene expression profiles in these functionally distinct areas of the human uterus by using microarrays. Methods and Findings: Samples of uterine fundus, lower segment, and cervix were obtained from patients at term (mean ± SD=39.1 ± 0.5 wk) prior to the onset of labor (n=6), or in active phase of labor with spontaneous onset (n = 7). Expression of 12,626 genes was evaluated using microarrays (Human Genome U95A; Affymetrix) and compared between labor and non-labor samples. Genes with the largest labor-associated change and the lowest variability in expression are likely to be fundamental for parturition, so gene expression was ranked accordingly. From 500 genes with the highest rank we identified genes with similar expression profiles using two independent clustering techniques. Sets of genes with a probability of chance grouping by both techniques less than 0.01 represented 71.2%, 81.8%, and 79.8% of the 500 genes in the fundus, lower segment, and cervix, respectively. We identified 14, 14, and 12 those sets of genes in the fundus, lower segment, and cervix, respectively. This enabled networks of co-regulated and co-expressed genes to be discovered. Many genes within the same cluster shared similar functions or had functions pertinent to the process of labor. Conclusions: Our results provide support for many of the established processes of parturition and also describe novel-to-labor genes not previously associated with this process. The elucidation of these mechanisms likely to be fundamental for controlling labor is an important prerequisite to the development of effective treatments for major obstetric problems - including prematurity, with its long-term consequences to the health of mother and offspring.
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