Pelvic organ prolapse is characterized as the descent of the pelvic organs into the vaginal canal. In the USA, there is a 12% lifetime risk for requiring surgical intervention. Although vaginal childbirth is a well-established risk factor for prolapse, the underlying mechanisms are not fully understood. Decreased smooth muscle organization, composition and maximum muscle tone are characteristics of prolapsed vaginal tissue. Maximum muscle tone of the vaginal wall was previously investigated in the circumferential or axial direction under uniaxial loading; however, the vaginal wall is subjected to multiaxial loads. Further, the contribution of vaginal smooth muscle basal (resting) tone to mechanical function remains undetermined. The objectives of this study were to determine the contribution of smooth muscle basal and maximum tone to the regional biaxial mechanical behaviour of the murine vagina. Vaginal tissue from C57BL/6 mice was subjected to extension-inflation protocols (n = 10) with and without basal smooth muscle tone. Maximum tone was induced with KCl under various circumferential (n = 5) and axial (n = 5) loading conditions. The microstructure was visualized with multiphoton microscopy (n = 1), multiaxial histology (n = 4) and multiaxial immunohistochemistry (n = 4). Smooth muscle basal tone decreased material stiffness and increased anisotropy. In addition, maximum vaginal tone was decreased with increasing intraluminal pressures. This study demonstrated that vaginal muscle tone contributed to the biaxial mechanical response of murine vaginal tissue. This may be important in further elucidating the underlying mechanisms of prolapse, in order to improve current preventative and treatment strategies.
Keywords: basal tone; biaxial; contractility; regional; smooth muscle; vagina.