Pregnancy, spontaneous term labor (TL), and postpartum (PP) involution are associated with changes in the cellular and extracellular matrix composition of the uterus. Both the uterine smooth muscle (myometrium) and the infiltrating peripheral blood leukocytes involved in the activation of labor secrete extracellular matrix-degrading enzymes (matrix metalloproteinases, MMPs) that can modulate cellular behavior and barrier function. MMP expression is induced by mechanical stretch in several tissues. We hypothesized that the expression and activity of myometrial MMPs and their tissue inhibitors (TIMPs) are modulated in preparation for TL and PP involution and are regulated by mechanical stretch of uterine walls imposed by the growing fetus. Myometrial tissues were collected from bilaterally and unilaterally pregnant rats across gestation, TL, and PP. Total RNA and proteins were subjected to real-time PCR and immunoblotting, respectively, and tissue localization and activity was examined by immunohistochemistry and in situ zymography. We found that Mmp7, Mmp11, and Mmp12 mRNA levels were upregulated during TL and PP, while Mmp2, Mmp3, Mmp8, Mmp9, Mmp10, and Mmp13 mRNAs were only upregulated during PP. Timp1–Timp4 were stably expressed throughout gestation with some fluctuations PP. Active MMP2 was induced in the empty uterine horn during gestation and in the gravid PP uterus, suggesting negative regulation by biological mechanical stretch. We conclude that specific subsets of uterine MMPs are differentially regulated in the rat myometrium in preparation for two major events: TL and PP uterine involution.
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Vol. 95 • No. 1