By: 14 July 2015
Researchers find molecular mechanisms within fetal lungs that initiate labour

Researchers find molecular mechanisms within fetal lungs that initiate labour

Researchers have identified two proteins in fetal lungs responsible for initiating the labour process, providing potential new targets for preventing preterm birth

Previous studies have suggested that signals from the fetus initiate the birth process, but the precise molecular mechanisms that lead to labour remained unclear. Now, for the first time, biochemists at UT Southwestern Medical Center have found that two proteins control genes for pulmonary surfactant components that promote the initiation of labour. Surfactant is a substance released from fetal lungs just before birth that is essential for normal breathing outside the womb.

“Our study provides compelling evidence that the fetus regulates the timing of its birth, and that this control occurs after these two gene regulatory proteins [steroid receptor coactivators 1 and 2 (SRC-1 and SRC-2)] increase the production of surfactant components, surfactant protein A and platelet activating factor,” said senior author Carole Mendelson, professor of biochemistry and obstetrics and gynecology at UT Southwestern.

“By understanding the factors and pathways that initiate normal-term labour at 40 weeks, we can gain more insight into how to prevent preterm labour,” said Mendelson.

The study, which appears in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, was supported by the National Institutes of Health and a Prematurity Research Initiative grant from the March of Dimes Foundation.

Future research will include defining how fetal signals are transmitted to the mother’s uterus, and relating these findings to the causes of preterm labour.

Source: UT Southwestern Medical Center


Gao, L., Rabbitt, E.H., Condon, J.C., et al. (2015) Steroid receptor coactivators 1 and 2 mediate fetal-to-maternal signaling that initiates parturition. Journal of Clinical Investigation. doi: 10.1172/JCI78544