Purpose of review: Uterine fibroids are common benign tumors of women in the USA and worldwide, yet the biological nature and pathogenesis of these tumors remain largely unknown. This review presents our view of the stages in the life cycle of a subset of uterine fibroid myocytes, introduces hypothetical concepts and morphological data to explain these changes, and relates these changes in individual myocytes to the phases of fibroid tumor development.
Recent findings: The observations gained from light and electron microscopic, immunohistochemical, and morphometric studies in our laboratory have led to the hypothesis that fibroid changes over time may relate to the excessive production of collagen by phenotypically transformed myocytes. This accumulation of collagen results in decreased microvessel density, followed by myocyte injury and atrophy, with eventual senescence and involution through ischemic cellular degeneration and inanition.
Summary: Uterine leiomyomas, or fibroids, are characterized by two histologic features-proliferation of myocytes and production of an extracellular collagenous matrix. In the larger tumors, the collagenous matrix is often abundant. Within those regions in which the accumulating collagen is excessive, the myocytes are progressively separated from their blood supply, resulting in myocyte atrophy and eventually cell death. It is within these hypocellular, hyalinized areas that the complete lifecycle of the fibroid myocyte is realized. It begins with the phenotypic transformation of a contractile cell to one characterized by proliferation and collagen synthesis, progresses through an intermediate stage of atrophy related to interstitial ischemia, and eventuates in cell death due to inanition. Lastly, resorption of inanotic cells appears to occur by a non-phagocytic, presumably enzymatic process of degradation and recycling that we refer to as reclamation.
Keywords: Myocyte; Uterine fibroids; Uterine leiomyomas.