What do we know about what happens to myometrial function as women age?

J Muscle Res Cell Motil. 2012 Aug;33(3-4):209-17. doi: 10.1007/s10974-012-9300-2. Epub 2012 May 30.


Much has been written about the effects of aging on reproductive function, especially female fertility. Much less is known about how aging may affect the contractility of the smooth muscle within the uterus, the myometrium. The myometrium is active through a woman's entire life, not just during pregnancy. Here we will discuss briefly the contractile functions of the uterus and the changes it undergoes throughout the stages of a woman's life from menstruation and the menopause, before evaluating the evidence for any changes in myometrial contractility and responses as women age, with a particular focus on women of advanced maternal age. We present original contractility analysis for the widest data set for human myometrium so far examined, and determine inherent spontaneous activity as well as responses to depolarisation and stimulation with oxytocin. Our data show that in the non-pregnant state there is a significant decrease in contractility for both spontaneous and depolarised-induced contractions, with age. We suggest that muscle atrophy and down regulation of Ca channels may account for this. Interestingly in pregnant myometrium we found a wide range of contractile ability between women and little evidence for decreased spontaneous activity between the ages of 25-40. Oxytocin responses appear to be more affected by aging, a finding that is consistent with previously reported clinical findings, and may partly be the result of membrane lipids such as cholesterol, increasing as women age. The marked differences between the age-related decline of force beyond age 30 in non-pregnant uterus, and the lack of difference in the pregnant state over this period, shows that the uterus retains its ability to respond to gestational hormones. The growth of the pregnant uterus and increase in content of myofibrillar proteins, may abolish any previous age-related force deficit. This finding is consistent with what is apparent for postmenopausal women in their 50s and 60s; that with the appropriate hormonal stimulation the uterus can allow an embryo to implant, and then without further intervention, carry the foetus to term. It is tempting therefore to speculate that unlike other well documented declines in female reproductive functions with age, the myometrium remains able to function into a woman's 7th decade.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Myometrium / physiology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Uterine Contraction / physiology*
  • Uterus / physiology