Abstract

Cervical remodeling is critical for a healthy pregnancy. The proper regulation of extracellular matrix (ECM) turnover leads to remodeling throughout gestation, transforming the tissue from a stiff material to a compliant, extensible, viscoelastic tissue prepared for delivery. Small leucine-rich proteoglycans (SLRPs) regulate structural fiber assembly in the cervical ECM and overall tissue material properties. To quantify the SLRPs' mechanical role in the cervix, whole cervix specimens from nonpregnant and late pregnant knockout mice of SLRPs, decorin and biglycan, were subjected to cyclic load-unload, ramp-hold, and load-to-failure mechanical tests. Further, a fiber composite material model, accounting for collagen fiber bundle waviness, was developed to describe the cervix's three-dimensional large deformation equilibrium behavior. In nonpregnant tissue, SLRP knockout cervices have the same equilibrium material properties as wild-type tissue. In contrast, the load-to-failure and ramp-hold tests reveal SLRPs impact rupture and time-dependent relaxation behavior. Loss of decorin in nonpregnant (NP) cervices results in inferior rupture properties. After extensive remodeling, cervical strength is similar between all genotypes, but the SLRP-deficient tissue has a diminished ability to dissipate stress during a ramp-hold. In mice with a combined loss of decorin and biglycan, the pregnant cervix loses its extensibility, compliance, and viscoelasticity. These results suggest that decorin and biglycan are necessary for crucial extensibility and viscoelastic material properties of a healthy, remodeled pregnant cervix.

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