Are animal models relevant to key aspects of human parturition?

Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2009 Sep;297(3):R525-45. doi: 10.1152/ajpregu.00153.2009. Epub 2009 Jun 10.


Preterm birth remains the most serious complication of pregnancy and is associated with increased rates of infant death or permanent neurodevelopmental disability. Our understanding of the regulation of parturition remains inadequate. The scientific literature, largely derived from rodent animal models, suggests two major mechanisms regulating the timing of parturition: the withdrawal of the steroid hormone progesterone and a proinflammatory response by the immune system. However, available evidence strongly suggests that parturition in the human has significantly different regulators and mediators from those in most of the animal models. Our objectives are to critically review the data and concepts that have arisen from use of animal models for parturition and to rationalize the use of a new model. Many animal models have contributed to advances in our understanding of the regulation of parturition. However, we suggest that those animals dependent on progesterone withdrawal to initiate parturition clearly have a limitation to their translation to the human. In such models, a linear sequence of events (e.g., luteolysis, progesterone withdrawal, uterine activation, parturition) gives rise to the concept of a "trigger" mechanism. Conversely, we propose that human parturition may arise from the concomitant maturation of several systems in parallel. We have termed this novel concept "modular accumulation of physiological systems" (MAPS). We also emphasize the urgency to determine the precise role of the immune system in the process of parturition in situations other than intrauterine infection. Finally, we accentuate the need to develop a nonprimate animal model whose physiology is more relevant to human parturition. We suggest that the guinea pig displays several key physiological characteristics of gestation that more closely resemble human pregnancy than do currently favored animal models. We conclude that the application of novel concepts and new models are required to advance translational research in parturition.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cervical Ripening*
  • Female
  • Gestational Age
  • Guinea Pigs
  • Humans
  • Immune System / physiology
  • Mice
  • Models, Animal*
  • Myometrium / metabolism
  • Myometrium / physiology*
  • Parturition / blood
  • Parturition / physiology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Progesterone / blood
  • Rabbits
  • Rats
  • Sheep
  • Signal Transduction*
  • Species Specificity
  • Uterine Contraction*


  • Progesterone