The mechanical role of the cervix in pregnancy

J Biomech. 2015 Jun 25;48(9):1511-23. doi: 10.1016/j.jbiomech.2015.02.065. Epub 2015 Mar 11.


Appropriate mechanical function of the uterine cervix is critical for maintaining a pregnancy to term so that the fetus can develop fully. At the end of pregnancy, however, the cervix must allow delivery, which requires it to markedly soften, shorten and dilate. There are multiple pathways to spontaneous preterm birth, the leading global cause of death in children less than 5 years old, but all culminate in premature cervical change, because that is the last step in the final common pathway to delivery. The mechanisms underlying premature cervical change in pregnancy are poorly understood, and therefore current clinical protocols to assess preterm birth risk are limited to surrogate markers of mechanical function, such as sonographically measured cervical length. This is what motivates us to study the cervix, for which we propose investigating clinical cervical function in parallel with a quantitative engineering evaluation of its structural function. We aspire to develop a common translational language, as well as generate a rigorous integrated clinical-engineering framework for assessing cervical mechanical function at the cellular to organ level. In this review, we embark on that challenge by describing the current landscape of clinical, biochemical, and engineering concepts associated with the mechanical function of the cervix during pregnancy. Our goal is to use this common platform to inspire novel approaches to delineate normal and abnormal cervical function in pregnancy.

Keywords: Cervix; Pregnancy; Preterm birth.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Cervix Uteri / metabolism
  • Cervix Uteri / pathology
  • Cervix Uteri / physiopathology*
  • Collagen / metabolism
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological
  • Pregnancy
  • Premature Birth / physiopathology*


  • Collagen