Mesotocin, an oxytocin-like peptide, stimulates uterine contractions during marsupial parturition. Female marsupials have two separate uteri, and in monovular species, the uterus with the conceptus is gravid, whereas the contralateral uterus is nongravid. Marsupials are unique because systemic and feto-placental factors in the regulation of uterine function can be differentiated. In pregnant tammar wallabies, a marked increase in myometrial mesotocin receptors (MTRs) occurs on Day 23 of the 26-day gestation, but only in the gravid uterus. The objective of this study was to investigate the effects of removing the conceptus on this MTR up-regulation. Complete fetectomy on Day 20 of gestation resulted in significantly lower MTR mRNA and receptor concentrations on Day 23 compared with sham-operated controls. In contrast, there was no significant difference in MTR expression between controls and partially fetectomized animals in which uterine distension was maintained in the absence of a conceptus. In a related study, we examined MTRs in the myometrium of animals that appeared to be pregnant with a large, distended uterus. However, these uteri contained an abnormally developed fetus and avascular placenta. In these animals, MTR levels were significantly higher in the distended uterus compared with the nondistended uterus, and did not differ from controls. These data demonstrate that uterine occupancy is essential for the marked increase in uterine MTRs observed on Day 23 gestation. It also appears that distension may be one of the key factors involved.
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