The female reproductive organs, specifically the vagina and cervix, are composed of various cellular components and a unique extracellular matrix (ECM). Smooth muscle cells exhibit a contractile function within the vaginal and cervical walls. Depending on the biochemical environment and the mechanical distension of the organ walls, the smooth muscle cells alter the contractile conditions. The contribution of the smooth muscle cells under baseline physiological conditions is classified as a basal tone. More specifically, a basal tone is the baseline partial constriction of smooth muscle cells in the absence of hormonal and neural stimulation. Furthermore, the ECM provides structural support for the organ walls and functions as a reservoir for biochemical cues. These biochemical cues are vital to various organ functions, such as inciting growth and maintaining homeostasis. The ECM of each organ is composed primarily of collagen fibers (mostly collagen types I, III, and V), elastic fibers, and glycosaminoglycans/proteoglycans. The composition and organization of the ECM dictate the mechanical properties of each organ. A change in ECM composition may lead to the development of reproductive pathologies, such as pelvic organ prolapse or premature cervical remodeling. Furthermore, changes in ECM microstructure and stiffness may alter smooth muscle cell activity and phenotype, thus resulting in the loss of the contractile force.
In this work, the reported protocols are used to assess the basal tone and passive mechanical properties of the nonpregnant murine vagina and cervix at 4-6 months of age in estrus. The organs were mounted in a commercially available pressure myograph and both pressure-diameter and force-length tests were performed. Sample data and data analysis techniques for the mechanical characterization of the reproductive organs are included. Such information may be useful for constructing mathematical models and rationally designing therapeutic interventions for women’s health pathologies.