Pelvic organ prolapse (POP) is a common condition affecting almost half of women over the age of 50. The molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying this condition, however, remain poorly understood. Here we have reported that fibulin-5, an integrin-binding matricellular protein that is essential for elastic fiber assembly, regulated the activity of MMP-9 to maintain integrity of the vaginal wall and prevented development of POP. In murine vaginal stromal cells, fibulin-5 inhibited the β1 integrin-dependent, fibronectin-mediated upregulation of MMP-9. Mice in which the integrin-binding motif was mutated to an integrin-disrupting motif (Fbln5RGE/RGE) exhibited upregulation of MMP-9 in vaginal tissues. In contrast to fibulin-5 knockouts (Fbln5-/-), Fbln5RGE/RGE mice were able to form intact elastic fibers and did not exhibit POP. However, treatment of mice with β-aminopropionitrile (BAPN), an inhibitor of matrix cross-linking enzymes, induced subclinical POP. Conversely, deletion of Mmp9 in Fbln5-/- mice significantly attenuated POP by increasing elastic fiber density and improving collagen fibrils. Vaginal tissue samples from pre- and postmenopausal women with POP also displayed significantly increased levels of MMP-9. These results suggest that POP is an acquired disorder of extracellular matrix and that therapies targeting matrix proteases may be successful for preventing or ameliorating POP in women.
ASJC Scopus subject areas