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.