A discovery by researchers at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center could lead to new techniques to prevent premature births. They have identified two proteins in a foetus’ lungs that are responsible for initiating the labour process, providing potential new targets for preventing preterm birth.
Previous studies have suggested that signals from the foetus initiate the birth process, but the precise molecular mechanisms have been unclear.
Now the UT Southwestern biochemists, studying mouse models, have found that the two proteins control genes in pulmonary surfactant (a substance released from the foetus’ lungs just before birth components that that is essential for normal breathing outside the womb) promote the initiation of labor.
“Our study provides compelling evidence that the foetus regulates the timing of its birth, and that this control occurs after these two gene regulatory proteins … increase the production of surfactant components,” said senior author Dr. Carole Mendelson, Professor of Biochemistry, and Obstetrics and Gynecology at UT Southwestern.
“By understanding the factors and pathways that initiate normal-term labor at 40 weeks, we can gain more insight into how to prevent preterm labour,” said Dr. Mendelson, Director of the North Texas March of Dimes Birth Defects Center at UT Southwestern.
Now the scientist plan to study how foetal signals are transmitted to the mother’s uterus, and relate these findings to the causes of premature birth.
Bill Condie is a science journalist based in Adelaide, Australia.
Read science facts, not fiction...
There’s never been a more important time to explain the facts, cherish evidence-based knowledge and to showcase the latest scientific, technological and engineering breakthroughs. Cosmos is published by The Royal Institution of Australia, a charity dedicated to connecting people with the world of science. Financial contributions, however big or small, help us provide access to trusted science information at a time when the world needs it most. Please support us by making a donation or purchasing a subscription today.