Innervation of the cervix is important for normal timing of birth because transection of the pelvic nerve forestalls birth and causes dystocia. To discover whether transection of the parasympathetic innervation of the cervix affects cervical ripening in the process of parturition was the objective of the present study. Rats on Day 16 of pregnancy had the pelvic nerve (PnX) or the vagus nerve (VnX) or both pathways (PnX VnX) transected, sham-operated (Sham) or nonpregnant rats served as controls. Sections of fixed peripartum cervix were stained for collagen or processed by immunohistochemistry to identify macrophages and nerve fibers. All Sham controls delivered by the morning of Day 22 postbreeding, while births were delayed in more than 75% of neurectomized rats by more than 12 h. Dystocia was evident in more than 25% of the PnX and PnX VnX rats. Moreover, on prepartum Day 21, serum progesterone was increased severalfold in neurectomized versus Sham rats. Assessments of cell nuclei counts indicated that the cervix of neurectomized rats and Sham controls had become equally hypertrophied compared to the unripe cervix in nonpregnant rats. Collagen content and structure were reduced in the cervix of all pregnant rats, whether neurectomized or Shams, versus that in nonpregnant rats. Stereological analysis of cervix sections found reduced numbers of resident macrophages in prepartum PnX and PnX VnX rats on Day 21 postbreeding, as well as in VnX rats on Day 22 postbreeding compared to that in Sham controls. Finally, nerve transections blocked the prepartum increase in innervation that occurred in Sham rats on Day 21 postbreeding. These findings indicate that parasympathetic innervation of the cervix mediates local inflammatory processes, withdrawal of progesterone in circulation, and the normal timing of birth. Therefore, pelvic and vagal nerves regulate macrophage immigration and nerve fiber density but may not be involved in final remodeling of the extracellular matrix in the prepartum cervix. These findings support the contention that immigration of immune cells and enhanced innervation are involved in processes that remodel the cervix and time parturition.
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Vol. 84 • No. 3