New insight gained on preterm-birth triggers

Scientists from the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) at Galveston have acquired new information on a poorly-understood factor that plays an important role in the timing of labor and delivery. Included in Scientific Reports, the study conducted by the team led by Ramkumar Menon, Associate Professor at Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology, has brought the scientist nearer to be able to forestall preterm births.

As per the estimate of World Health Organisation (WHO), 15 million preterm births take place every year and about one million deaths take place every year across world among children below five years of age due to premature birth complications. In 2017, approximately 1 in every 10 births was preterm in the U.S.

During the final stage of pregnancy, as a normal childbirth process, the baby releases chemicals to indicate that it is ready for delivery which brings a shift in the hormone levels of the mother. This leads to labor and delivery by increasing inflammation in the mother’s uterus.

Senior author Menon said, “There’s another component of the biological clock that contributes to the timing of birth—a type of cell-to-cell communication between the maternal and fetal cells called paracrine signalling.” As not much is known about what paracrine signalling does during pregnancy, the team investigated the role played by paracrine signal—exosomes, in the timing of labor and delivery, told Menon.

The scientists isolated exosomes from the plasma samples collected from pregnant mice. Those exosomes which were collected during early or late pregnancy were then injected into another group of pregnant mice which were in the human equivalent of the start of third trimester.

According to Menon, the study showed that injecting a high concentration of late pregnancy exosomes could lead to labor-related changes without the other hormonal and chemical triggers involved, while injecting early-pregnancy exosomes caused no change. This proves the crucial role played by exosomes in labor and delivery, which has not been reported before.

The primary author of the study, Samantha Sheller-Miller at UTMB carried out the animal model experiments that led to this new finding. UTMB’s Jayshil Trivedi and Steven Yellon from Loma Linda University are other authors of the study.

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