A decline in serum progesterone or antagonism of progesterone receptor function results in preterm labor and birth. Whether characteristics of premature remodeling of the cervix after antiprogestins or ovariectomy are similar to that at term was the focus of the present study. Groups of pregnant rats were treated with vehicle, a progesterone receptor antagonist (onapristone or mifepristone), or ovariectomized on day 17 postbreeding. As expected, controls given vehicle delivered at term while rats delivered preterm after progesterone receptor antagonist treatment or ovariectomy. Similar to the cervix before term, the preterm cervix of progesterone receptor antagonist-treated rats was characterized by reduced cell nuclei density, decreased collagen content and structure, as well as a greater presence of macrophages per unit area. Thus, loss of nuclear progesterone receptor-mediated actions promoted structural remodeling of the cervix, increased census of resident macrophages, and preterm birth much like that found in the cervix at term. In contrast to the progesterone receptor antagonist-induced advance in characteristics associated with remodeling, ovariectomy-induced loss of systemic progesterone did not affect hypertrophy, extracellular collagen, or macrophage numbers in the cervix. Thus, the structure and macrophage census in the cervix appear sufficient for premature ripening and birth to occur well before term. With progesterone receptors predominantly localized on cells other than macrophages, the findings suggest that interactions between cells may facilitate the loss of progesterone receptor-mediated actions as part of a final common mechanism that remodels the cervix in certain etiologies of preterm and with parturition at term.
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