Relaxin: a pleiotropic hormone

Gen Pharmacol. 1997 Jan;28(1):13-22. doi: 10.1016/s0306-3623(96)00171-1.


1. Relaxin is a peptide hormone of about 6000 Da belonging to the insulin family. Like insulin, relaxin is composed by two disulfide-linked chains, termed the A and B chains, the B chain bearing the receptor interaction site. 2. Relaxin is produced primarily by the corpus luteum, in both pregnant and nonpregnant females. It attains the highest plasma levels during pregnancy. In this condition, relaxin is also produced by the decidua and placenta. In males, relaxin is synthesized in the prostate and released in the seminal fluid. An additional source of relaxin has recently been identified in the heart atria. 3. Relaxin has a broad range of biologic activities, some of which have been known for a long time. These latter ones include: (a) the induction of collagen remodeling and consequent softening of the tissues of the birth canal in view of delivery; (b) the inhibition of uterine contractile activity; (c) the stimulation of growth and differentiation of the mammary gland. 4. In more recent years, novel sites of relaxin action have been recognized. In particular, it has been shown that relaxin: (a) regulates growth and differentiation of breast cancer cells in culture; (b) promotes dilation of blood vessels in several organs and tissues, including the uterus, the mammary gland, the lung and the heart; (c) has a chronotropic action on the heart; (d) inhibits the release of histamine by mast cells, thus being able to counteract experimental allergic asthma; (d) depresses aggregation of platelets and their release by megakaryocytes; (e) influences the secretion of hormones by the pituitary gland; and (f) contributes to the regulation of fluid balance. 5. Concerning the mechanisms of action of relaxin, stimulation of nitric oxide generation, with consequent rise in intracellular cyclic GMP levels, and stimulation of cyclic AMP production have been demonstrated to occur in the target cells and organs. 6. It may be expected that the next decade will provide answers about the utility of relaxin, in terms of insight into the actual physiologic functions of relaxin in the animal kingdom and especially in man, in view of possible therapeutic use of relaxin or relaxin-derived drugs in human disease, especially considering that human recombinant relaxin is now available for clinical experimentation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Breast / growth & development
  • Connective Tissue / physiology
  • Female
  • Hemostasis / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pregnancy
  • Relaxin / blood
  • Relaxin / metabolism
  • Relaxin / physiology*
  • Tissue Distribution
  • Uterine Contraction / physiology
  • Vasodilation / physiology


  • Relaxin