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Pregnant Women Show Cellular Signs As They Go Into Labor: Study

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Researchers from The University of Texas Medical Branch have found that cells in the amniotic fluid carry signs signifying when a pregnant woman is about to go into labor.

In a study published in the journal PLOS One, Ramkumar Menon and colleagues investigated amniotic fluid telomeres, which are DNA fragments designed to protect genetic data as cells divide. Telomeres shorten each time cell division takes place, signifying changes the body undergoes as it ages. When telomeres reach the "end" and become too short to further divide, they turn "senescent."

Menon explained that the body carries out a pregnancy by maintaining balance in several systems. When this balance is altered, there is a tendency for labor to be induced. Understanding what initiates the process is particularly important in treating women who are at risk of going into early labor. Telomeres shorten too as a pregnancy progresses so the researchers delved into investigating whether or not senescent telomere fragments affect labor status.

For the study, the researchers used samples of amniotic fluid from the Nashville Birth Cohort Biobank which included 51 women who were at the end of their pregnancy but have not gone into labor and 50 women who have. Demographic information was also acquired through medical records and patient interviews. Fetal membranes from the placenta babies were delivered in at term were also dissected.

According to Menon, they started their research suspecting that senescent telomeres cause damages associated with oxidative stress to the amniotic sac, which produce placental inflammation. Previous studies have shown that inflammations has the ability to alter hormonal balance which triggers labor.

Based on their findings, the researchers saw that more telomere fragments are present in the amniotic fluid of women who went into labor compared to those who didn't but were at the end of their pregnancy. They also report that as the fetus nears term, tissues around it age correspondingly as well because of telomere fragmentation.

Better understanding the pathways that are affected by fragments of telomeres and how they contribute to inducing labor will aid doctors in better assessing the process, which can help in evaluating preterm birth risk and the necessary medical interventions a pregnant woman would need to induce or prevent labor.

Photo: Tatiana Vdb | Flickr

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