Why does cervical damage cause preterm labour?

Ioannis Pavlidis, Sara Rinaldi, Heather MacPherson, Jane Norman, Sarah Stock

Scientists think that damaged cervixes make it easier for infections to travel to the womb, resulting in preterm labour.

This research study is now complete

The cervix is important in making sure a baby isn’t born too early. It not only keeps the baby inside the womb until labour, but also helps stop infections from entering the womb and hurting the baby. We already know that premature birth can be a result of something going wrong with the cervix. However, at the moment we’re not sure how the cervix normally works to stop the baby from being born too soon.

As a first step to help us understand more about the cervix’s role in humans, researchers supported by Tommy’s are looking at pregnancies in mice. Scientists damaged cells in the cervixes of pregnant mice to see if this caused premature birth. We think that by damaging the cervix, the mice will be less able to stop infection from entering the womb, and that they will then give birth early.

When there is damage to the cervix, women have an increased risk of delivering early; and the best available treatments to prevent preterm birth  (vaginal progesterone, cervical cerclage and the cervical ‘Arabin’ pessary) are directed to the cervix. Nevertheless, it is not clear how the cervix works to prevent preterm birth, and a major barrier to work to improve preterm birth prevention is that there have been no good models to study this.

In this research we have developed a new mouse model of cervical damage that has allowed us to study mechanisms leading to preterm birth. We have shown for the first time that damage to the cervix increases infections that cause preterm birth. This is crucial for future studies developing potential new treatments.

To develop and test better treatments to prevent preterm birth we need pre-clinical models. This model provides new insights about the role of the cervix in  the length of pregnancy based on its ability to prevent infection coming up from the cervix.

This will allow for better tools and potential treatments that detect those at risk of preterm birth earlier and proper management of preterm labour based on a better understanding of the cervix and infection.



Thanks for your interest in our research

Tommy's funds research across the UK investigating the reasons for pregnancy complications and loss. Maternal and fetal research is underfunded and we need your support to continue. There are many small and large ways you can support us, find out more here.


This study is fully funded by Tommy's and takes place in a Tommy's centre

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