microRNAs mediate uterine contraction during pregnancy and labor

miR-200 family and targets, ZEB1 and ZEB2, modulate uterine quiescence and contractility during pregnancy and labor

Throughout most of pregnancy, uterine quiescence is maintained by increased progesterone receptor (PR) transcriptional activity, whereas spontaneous labor is initiated/facilitated by a concerted series of biochemical events that activate inflammatory pathways and have a negative impact on PR function. In this study, we uncovered a previously undescribed regulatory pathway whereby micro-RNAs (miRNAs) serve as hormonally modulated and conserved mediators of contraction-associated genes in the pregnant uterus in the mouse and human. Using miRNA and gene expression microarray analyses of uterine tissues, we identified a conserved family of miRNAs, the miR-200 family, that is highly induced at term in both mice and humans as well as two coordinately down-regulated targets, zinc finger E-box binding homeobox proteins ZEB1 and ZEB2, which act as transcriptional repressors. We also observed up-regulation of the miR-200 family and down-regulation of ZEB1 and ZEB2 in two different mouse models of preterm labor. We further demonstrated that ZEB1 is directly up-regulated by the action of progesterone (P4)/PR at the ZEB1 promoter. Excitingly, we observed that ZEB1 and ZEB2 inhibit expression of the contraction-associated genes, oxytocin receptor and connexin-43, and block oxytocin-induced contractility in human myometrial cells. Together, these findings implicate the miR-200 family and their targets, ZEB1 and ZEB2, as unique P4/PR-mediated regulators of uterine quiescence and contractility during pregnancy and labor and shed light on the molecular mechanisms involved in preterm birth.

Renthal, N. E. et al. (2010) miR-200 family and targets, ZEB1 and ZEB2, modulate uterine quiescence and contractility during pregnancy and labor. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA [Epub ahead of print]. [abstract]

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