Review article: steroid hormones and uterine vascular adaptation to pregnancy

Reprod Sci. 2008 Apr;15(4):336-48. doi: 10.1177/1933719108317975.


Pregnancy is a physiological state that involves a significant decrease in uterine vascular tone and an increase in uterine blood flow, which is mediated in part by steroid hormones, including estrogen, progesterone, and cortisol. Previous studies have demonstrated the involvement of these hormones in the regulation of uterine artery contractility through signaling pathways specific to the endothelium and the vascular smooth muscle. Alterations in endothelial nitric oxide synthase expression and activity, nitric oxide production, and expression of enzymes involved in PGI(2) production contribute to the uterine artery endothelium-specific responses. Steroid hormones also have an effect on calcium-activated potassium channel activity, PKC signaling pathway and myogenic tone, and alterations in pharmacomechanical coupling in the uterine artery smooth muscle. This review addresses current understanding of the molecular mechanisms by which steroid hormones including estrogen, progesterone, and cortisol modulate uterine artery contractility to alter uterine blood flow during pregnancy with an emphasis on the pregnant ewe model.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Arteries / physiology
  • Endothelium / enzymology
  • Endothelium / physiology*
  • Estrogens / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / physiology*
  • Muscle, Smooth, Vascular / metabolism
  • Muscle, Smooth, Vascular / physiology*
  • Nitric Oxide / metabolism
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase Type III / physiology
  • Potassium Channels / physiology
  • Pregnancy / physiology*
  • Progesterone / physiology*
  • Receptors, Estrogen / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction / physiology
  • Uterus / blood supply*
  • Uterus / physiology


  • Estrogens
  • Potassium Channels
  • Receptors, Estrogen
  • Nitric Oxide
  • Progesterone
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase Type III
  • Hydrocortisone