The pregnant myometrium is epigenetically activated at contractility-driving gene loci prior to the onset of labor in mice

PLoS Biol. 2020 Jul 15;18(7):e3000710. doi: 10.1371/journal.pbio.3000710. eCollection 2020 Jul.


During gestation, uterine smooth muscle cells transition from a state of quiescence to one of contractility, but the molecular mechanisms underlying this transition at a genomic level are not well-known. To better understand these events, we evaluated the epigenetic landscape of the mouse myometrium during the pregnant, laboring, and postpartum stages. We generated gestational time point-specific enrichment profiles for histone H3 acetylation on lysine residue 27 (H3K27ac), histone H3 trimethylation of lysine residue 4 (H3K4me3), and RNA polymerase II (RNAPII) occupancy by chromatin immunoprecipitation with massively parallel sequencing (ChIP-seq), as well as gene expression profiles by total RNA-sequencing (RNA-seq). Our findings reveal that 533 genes, including known contractility-driving genes (Gap junction alpha 1 [Gja1], FBJ osteosarcoma oncogene [Fos], Fos-like antigen 2 [Fosl2], Oxytocin receptor [Oxtr], and Prostaglandin G/H synthase 2 (Ptgs2), for example), are up-regulated at day 19 during active labor because of an increase in transcription at gene bodies. Labor-associated promoters and putative intergenic enhancers, however, are epigenetically activated as early as day 15, by which point the majority of genome-wide H3K27ac or H3K4me3 peaks present in term laboring tissue is already established. Despite this early exhibited histone signature, increased noncoding enhancer RNA (eRNA) production at putative intergenic enhancers and recruitment of RNAPII to the gene bodies of labor-associated loci were detected only during labor. Our findings indicate that epigenetic activation of the myometrial genome precedes active labor by at least 4 days in the mouse model, suggesting that the myometrium is poised for rapid activation of contraction-associated genes in order to exit the state of quiescence.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Base Sequence
  • Epigenesis, Genetic*
  • Female
  • Genetic Loci*
  • Histone Code / genetics
  • Labor, Obstetric / genetics*
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Models, Genetic
  • Myometrium / physiology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic
  • RNA / metabolism
  • RNA Polymerase II / genetics
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Transcription, Genetic
  • Transcriptome / genetics
  • Up-Regulation / genetics
  • Uterine Contraction / genetics*


  • RNA, Messenger
  • RNA
  • RNA Polymerase II

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