The effects of pregnancy and estrogen on the expression of calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) in the uterine cervix, dorsal root ganglia and spinal cord

C. N. Mowa, S. Usip, J. Collins, M. Storey-Workley, K. M. Hargreaves, R. E. Papka

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

41 Scopus citations


Before parturition the uterine cervix undergoes a ripening process ("softens" and dilates) to allow passage of the fetus at term. The exact mechanism(s) responsible for cervical ripening are unknown, though a role for peptidergic sensory neurons is emerging. Previous work demonstrated that administration of substance P (SP) to ovariectomized rats caused events associated with cervical ripening, that production of SP in cervix-related dorsal root ganglion (DRG) is estrogen responsive, and that release of SP from neurons terminating in the cervix and spinal cord peaks prior to parturition. The present study was designed to test the hypothesis that calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP), a neuropeptide co-stored with SP in many sensory neurons, undergoes changes with pregnancy and hormonal environment. Immunohistochemistry, in situ hybridization, reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) and radioimmunoassay (RIA) were used to investigate CGRP in L6-S1 DRG, spinal cord and cervix during pregnancy and the role of estrogen in CGRP synthesis. CGRP-immunoreactive primary sensory neurons expressed estrogen receptors (ER-α and ER-β). In the cervix, CGRP concentrations decreased, but in the L6-S1 DRG and the spinal cord segments, CGRP levels increased, with peak effects observed at day 20 of gestation. CGRP mRNA synthesis increased in DRG over pregnancy. Sensory neurons of ovariectomized rats treated with estrogen showed increased CGRP mRNA synthesis in a dose-related manner, an effect blocked by the ER antagonist ICI 182 780. From these results, we postulate that synthesis of CGRP in L6-S1 DRG and utilization in the cervix increase over pregnancy and this synthesis is the under influence of the estrogen-ER system. Collectively, these data are consistent with the hypothesis that CGRP plays a role in cervical ripening and, consequently in the birth process.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1163-1174
Number of pages12
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2003



  • Estrogen
  • Estrogen receptor
  • Neurogenic inflammation
  • Parturition
  • Pregnant rat
  • Sensory neurons

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Physiology
  • Endocrinology
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience

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