Nitric oxide (NO) plays a key role in the processes leading to cervical softening prior to labor. Inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS) contributes most to the increased production of NO during labor, as demonstrated in the rat cervix, or at term pregnancy in women. Changes in expression of iNOS during late gestation have not yet been studied longitudinally in any species, because repeatedly taking biopsies could not be performed. iNOS mRNA (n = 6) and protein expression (n = 3) in serial cervical biopsies of pregnant pluriparous cows taken around days 225, 250, and 275 of pregnancy and within 1.5 hr after calving (d225, d250, d275 and parturition biopsies, respectively) were measured using quantitative RT-PCR and Western blotting. iNOS mRNA expression decreased from the d225 biopsy onwards, differences being significant between the d250 and d275 (P < 0.05) and between the d275 and parturition biopsies (P < 0.05). iNOS protein expression decreased from d225 to d250 onwards. Immunohistochemical analysis of biopsies showed, besides positive staining in endothelium and epithelium, which remained unchanged at different time points, that iNOS expressing cells in the connective tissue cells of early biopsies were predominantly spindle shaped (mostly smooth muscle cells and some fibroblasts). In the parturition biopsies, iNOS reactivity was mainly found in mononuclear leucocytes. These results lead us to suggest that iNOS from spindle shaped cells is involved in prepartum cervical ripening, while iNOS in mononuclear inflammatory cells may be important for local tissue repair mechanisms during postpartum cervical involution.
(c) 2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.