Different organs contain fibroblasts with specific features and functions, indicating the complexity of fibroblast biology. In the rat cervical stroma, fibroblasts are preferentially located in the fibrous ring that surrounds the mucous layer. The purpose of this study was to investigate the morphological features and immunophenotype of fibroblastic cells of the uterine cervix in cycling, pregnant, and postpartum rats. Expression of the cytoskeletal proteins desmin, vimentin, and α-smooth muscle actin (α-SMA) were studied by immunohistochemistry. The optical density of immunohistochemical staining was quantified by image analysis. The ultrastructural features of fibroblastic cells were observed under transmission electron microscopy. Cervical fibroblastic cells always expressed vimentin and desmin but never α-SMA. During the first half of pregnancy (Day 5 [D5] to D14), desmin intensity values were similar to those of cycling and postpartum fibroblasts. In contrast, a strong expression of desmin was found from D15 to D22, with maximal expression at term (D23). Immunohistochemical expression for vimentin was constant throughout pregnancy and showed no differences with cycling and postpartum uterine cervices. Stromal cells from cycling and early pregnant rats displayed ultrastructural features characteristic of typical fibroblasts. In contrast, at the end of pregnancy, fibroblasts differentiated and showed increased secretory characteristics, reaching the ultrastructural features of a myofibroblast. Based on the differential expression of desmin and the electron microscopic observations, the foregoing results showed a modulation of the fibroblastic phenotype in the uterine cervix during pregnancy. To our knowledge, this is the first report that addresses the presence of myofibroblasts derived from resident fibroblasts in the fibrous ring of the rat uterine cervix. Fibroblastic-myofibroblastic cell plasticity may have implications in the physiological changes displayed in the uterine cervix during pregnancy, parturition, and postpartum involution.
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