Findings of recent study from the UT Southwestern Medical Center revealed that hyaluronon (HA) contains a substance that protects the body against premature birth. The study entitled “Hyaluronan in cervical epithelia protects against infection-mediated preterm birth” was recently published in The Journal of Clinical Investigation.
In the US, pre-term birth (PBT) from infection occurs in 11.7% of all pregnancies. According to the World Health Organization, in the first weeks of life, PTB is the leading cause of infant morbidity and mortality.
Infection is one of the causes of PBT and prophylactic antimicrobial treatments do not reduce PTB rates, suggesting that the factors predisposing women to infection-mediated PTB are not confined to the microbiome composition of the reproductive tract.
Hyaluronan (HA) is a nonsulfated glycosaminoglycan (GAG) found in the extracellular matrix of mammalian tissues. Studies in preterm women and mice revealed that HA levels are increased in the cervix.
HA has several functions, including being responsible for cell growth, migration, adhesion, and differentiation, all dependent on HA size and expression of HA-interacting molecules such as CD44, versican, and inter-alpha-trypsin inhibitor.
In this regard, Mala Mahendroo and colleagues examined the cervical HA in transgenic tissues of mice models during pregnancy and infection-associated PTB. Specifically, the team of researchers aimed to verify if an increase in cervival HA would lead to cervical distensibility and collagen disorganization.
Results revealed that HA is not essential for increased cervical distensibility during late pregnancy. The researchers found that HA plays a role in the epithelial barrier protection of the reproductive tract. When the researchers observed HA reduction in the cervix and vagina, there was an abnormal ephitelial cells differentiation.
In a recent news release, Dr. Mala Mahendroo, senior author and Associate Professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology’s Cecil H. and Ida Green Center for Reproductive Biology Sciences said concerning the results, “We found that HA is required to allow the epithelial lining of the reproductive tract to serve as the first line of defense against bacterial infections,”. “Because of this action, HA offers cervical protection against the bacterial infections that cause 25 to 40 percent of pre-term births in women.”
Dr. Yucel Akgul, first author of the study and research scientist in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology concluded, “This study demonstrates that HA plays a crucial role in the epithelial barrier as well as the cervix’s mucus,” “Our next step is to identify exactly how HA protects the cervix, which can have important clinical implications in the effort to reduce infection-mediated pre-term labor.”