The mechanisms that lead to the onset of human parturition are still unknown, although selected critical factors have been identified. To investigate the changes in myometrial gene expression associated with parturition, we used two macroarrays each containing 1176 different complementary human cDNA clones. Methods involving hierarchical clustering and conventional statistical analysis allowed us to generate a profile of genes expression at three stages of late pregnancy: preterm (29 wk amenorrhea); full term, not in labor (38 wk amenorrhea); and full term in labor (39 wk amenorrhea). Only 4% of the genes investigated were differentially expressed between the preterm and term groups (P < 0.05). These genes could be clustered as groups of either down-regulated or up-regulated transcripts. The changes in transcript abundance were particularly marked between the preterm and term stages of gestation, whereas the differences between term not in labor and term in labor were less pronounced. The parturition was characterized by a massive down-regulation of a large panel of developmental, cell adhesion molecule and proliferation-related genes, along with the up-regulation of inflammatory, contraction and apoptosis associated genes. We propose that the mechanisms of parturition consist primarily in the arrest of the processes of myometrial development, a step that might be essential to allow the uterus to recover appropriate contractile function before delivery.
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