Thursday, January 03, 2008

Fetal Lungs Protein Release Triggers Labor to Begin


Babies know when and how to be born.
Each one knows when s/he is ready for life on the outside.
Let's not rush them.
Let's trust them.


We've long known that a mammal's lungs are the last organ to develop inutero before it is baby's time to exit. Disrupting this normal process (and initiating/inducing labor to start before a baby triggers labor on his/her own) frequently causes a cascade of complications - from difficulty in latch, poor breathing, increased infection, decreased immunity, under development, failure to thrive, and an increase in SIDS.

Now, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas researchers have found that it is in fact the fetal lungs themselves which provide the signal to initiate labor.

Drs. Carole Mendelson, Jennifer Condon and Pancharatnam Jeyasuria published findings that a substance secreted by the lungs of a developing fetus contains the key signal that initiates labor.

The protein released from the lungs of a developing mouse fetus initiates a cascade of chemical events leading to the mother's initiation of labor. This research, which has implications for humans, marks the first time a link between a specific fetal lung protein and labor has been identified, said Mendelson, professor of BioChemistry and Obstetrics and Gynecology and senior author of the study. Their research appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and is currently available online here.

The initiation of term labor is carefully timed to begin only after the embryo is sufficiently mature to survive outside the womb. Previous studies suggested that the signal for labor in humans may arise from the fetus, but the nature of the signal and actual mechanism was unclear. In this study, researchers found that the key labor triggering substance, surfactant, is essential for normal breathing outside the womb.

"We found that a protein within lung, surfactant, serves as a hormone of labor that signals to the mother's uterus when the fetal lungs are sufficiently mature to withstand the critical transition from life in fluid to airbreathing," said Mendelson.

"No one really understands what causes normal or preterm labor. There may be several chemical pathways that lead to labor, but we think that this surfactant protein, which is also produced by the fetal lung in humans, may be the first hormonal signal for labor to begin," reported Mendelson, who is also co-director of the North Texas March of Dimes Birth Defects Center at UT Southwestern.

In humans the signaling protein, called surfactant protein A, or SP-A, also helps immune cells, called macrophages, fight off infections in the lungs of children and adults by gobbling up bacteria, viruses and fungi that infiltrate the lung airway.

"Women who go into preterm labor frequently have an infection of the membranes that surround the fetus, and the number of macrophages in the wall of the uterus increases with the initiation of preterm labor. When women go into labor in their own time, at term, they also have an increase in macrophages in the uterus," Mendelson said.

This led the researchers to investigate whether there was a connection between what happens during normal labor at term and in infected mothers who go into early labor.

Mendelson continued, "This also raised the question: If bacterial infection can cause increased macrophage infiltration of the uterus in preterm labor, what is the signal for the enhanced macrophage migration to the uterus at term?"

In mice, the developing fetal lung starts producing SP-A at 17 days gestation; full-term delivery occurs at 19 days. The developing human fetus starts producing SP-A in increasing amounts after 32 weeks of a 40+week normal gestation, at which time the baby's lungs are essentially developed. As the fetus "breathes" amniotic fluid in the womb, the protein is released into the fluid.

"The SP-A protein binds to macrophages in the amniotic fluid, macrophages that come from the fetus itself," said Dr. Jennifer Condon, a postdoctoral researcher in BioChemistry and the study's lead author.

The macrophages, activated by the protein, make their way through the amniotic fluid to the wall of the uterus. Once embedded there, they produce a chemical that stimulates an inflammatory response in the uterus, ultimately leading to labor.

Researchers also found that injecting a pregnant mouse with SP-A before day 17 of the pregnancy caused the mouse to deliver early. Injection of pregnant mice with an antibody that blocks SP-A function caused them to deliver late. This would cause us to believe that women who carry babies post 42 weeks (as is common in some family lines) may do so because the necessary SP-A function is happening at later date in gestation (starting at 34 weeks instead of 32 weeks, for example).

Identifying the receptors on the macrophages to which the SP-A protein binds will be the next step, Mendelson said. "We think that bacteria may be binding to the same receptor on the macrophages to cause preterm labor in women. The bacteria mimic the function of SP-A, initiating the chemical reactions that lead to premature labor. If we knew more about this receptor on amniotic fluid macrophages, we may be able to design therapies or inhibitors to block preterm labor."

Other researchers participating in the study were Dr. Pancharatnam Jeyasuria, a research fellow in internal medicine and former fellow Julie Faust, now a medical student at Texas A&M University.

The research was funded in part by the National Institutes of Health and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

21 comments:

  1. wow! that is soo cool!
    amazing the things we are learning!

    sucks that the formula ad is still up though:(

    hugs!!!

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  2. I have heard of this before and it still makes sense. It also makes sense that a woman with preterm labor may have this begin earlier in their pregnancy. Especially women like me who have disorders that cause hormone differences! My children have all been born between 36 and 37 weeks with perfectly healthy lungs. I have been in labor but "assisted" with pitocin when labor stalled (never again!!).. but the labor itself started naturally. All 6 children have been born with perfectly healthy lungs with NO problems or health issues. It just seems to be that my children don't "need" 40 weeks! LOL... As I said, perhaps the release of the SP-A starts a bit earlier for some women?

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  3. Interesting. My labor with baby #4 started with a spontaneous ROM at home at 36 weeks, 6 days. Labor and delivery were uneventful. However baby's lungs weren't at all ready--persistent pulmonary hypertension of the neonate, along with a touch of hyaline membrane disease. So, in this case, I can't believe that fetal lung development triggered his labor; but then again, we know that labor does occur before babies are ready to survive outside the womb as well.

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  4. dear "anon ~post June 19, 2010~" you obviously missed the part in the study where they spoke of microphages being the cause of preterm labour rendering the uterus hostile to the baby.

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  5. anyone know if there is anything new on this?

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  6. Makes me re-think the shots my old OB gave me to help my Baby's lungs develop, when I was having preterm contractions at 24 weeks. Seems like that would only make my early labor progress instead of stopping.

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    Replies
    1. As I understand it, the shots are not to stop labor, but to prepare the baby as best possible for an early birth. But I'm not 100%, none of mine came early, so I haven't looked into in depth.

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  7. IM SICK OF BEING PREGNANT. IM 38 WEEKS AND THIS LITTLE GIRL STILL DOESNT WANT TO COME OUT. I NEED SOME SAFE INDUCING WAYS TO GET THIS LABOR GOING. ANY SUGGESTIONS.

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  8. Dear Anonymous, You are ONLY 38 wks. she is not ready yet, term is 40 wks. and if this is your first baby you can be up to 2 wks. postdates! Patience....

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  9. babies come when they are ready- and being 40+ isn't truely post dates.. there are no 'safe' ways to induce a baby:)

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  10. primrose oil worked for me

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  11. Primrose oil will certainly soften the cervix for an easier delivery but it won't necessarily bring on labor. Patience grasshopper. You're baby will be here sooner than you think.

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  12. When I asked my OB what was the "Official" cause of initiation of term labor, she informed that that it is still to this day largely unknown. It is nice to have a glimpse into what may be the cause of such a seemingly spontaneous event. Maybe it is as simple as uterine inflammation. I was always under the assumption that the release of Oxytocin was the chemical/hormonal culprit.

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  13. I'm going to have steroid jabs in my legs fire my spd and have been told that this will cause no harm but now you got me thinking it will make me go into labour too early , confused .com

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  14. I had preterm contractions at 28 weeks and I was given the shot to help the baby's lung to develope just in case the contractions continued. Had to be put on bed for three days in the hospotal and was at home as well. Do you think its okay? Please anyone

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    Replies
    1. Anon - the drugs given to help baby's lungs develop more rapidly are to ensure a better chance at survival if preterm birth occurs. Sounds like you are in good hands. Much love to you and your little one.

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  15. I ended up with a medical induction at 42 weeks and 1 day. I didn't feel like it would be safe to go much longer than that, in case the placenta was starting to deteriorate. Little guy was healthy and ready... I guess his lungs just didn't want to release that hormone! It took a lot of stubbornness on my part to get my doctor to let me go that long. Apparently she normally induces at 39w. Next baby will be with a different doctor.

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    Replies
    1. 'Placental deterioration' is one of those things physicians often use to scare women into inductions. 42 weeks is AVERAGE -- not the end cut off. My son was born at 44 weeks, and I know many others who have gone post-42 as well. Of course, these are just more case examples, but averages tell us that the placenta does not magically breakdown or stop doing its job at 42 weeks. ;) This physician should *never* be inducing at 39 weeks -- there could be many babies whose dates are off by as much as 2 weeks, which would cause them to be prematurely born at 37. :/

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    2. Sadly, many women still choose induction at 39 weeks or have their c-sections scheduled this early. I not only think it's irresponsible of the mother to choose this, but for the OB's to allow it.

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  16. I heard many years ago that when the baby's lungs were ready to breathe air, a gas was produced that caused a burp. As it passed into the amionic fluid it caused the placenta to break, initiating the first stage of labor.

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