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Removal of collagen bundles in murine uterus during postpartum involution.

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THE ANATOMICAL RECORD 220~138-142(1988)
Removal of Collagen Bundles in Murine Uterus
During Postpartum Involution
Department of Anatomy, Tokyo Medical College, Tokyo 160, Japan
The localization of collagenolytic activity within the tissue compartments of the mouse uterus was investigated during postpartum involution. The rate
of collagenase activity was measured by analysis of tissue levels of hydroxyproline
from the day of parturition to the 10th postpartum day. Collagen bonding was
analyzed by viewing birefringence induced by the picrosirius red-binding technique.
An attempt was made to interrelate quantitative analysis with the histologic distribution of collagen during postpartum days 1-10.
Histologic and quantitative evidence indicated the following: 1)The collagenous
compartments of the endometrium and myometrium differ in their response to the
postpartum rise in collagenase activity; collagen degradation occurs primarily in
the endometrium, that is, the myometrial collagen remains, but much of the endometrial collagen is removed. 2) Endometrial collagen is degraded particularly in the
immediate subluminal compartment.
Following parturition, both the weight and collagen
content of the uterus show a rapid decrease, which is
known as postpartum involution. A conspicuous feature
in postpartum involution is collagen removal, since this
represents one of the fastest known rates in any connective tissue (Harkness, 1964). Regional differences in the
amount and degradation of collagen have not been
Because fuchsin in van Gieson’s trichrome method
fades after a few months, Sweat et al. (1964) performed
tests on a series of dyes to avoid this problem and introduced sirius red (SR). Later, Constantine and Mowry
(1968) observed that collagen fibers stained with picroSR show high birefringence when observed with polarized light. Sirius red binds interstitial collagens and not
proteoglycans (Junqueira, et al., 1979). Although SR
also stains some basic proteins, these proteins are not
birefringent (Junqueira et al., 1979). The picrosiriuspolarization method (picro-SR pol method) shows complete and detailed distribution of interstitial collagen
bundles in tissue sections (Junqueira et al., 1979; PerezTamayo and Montfort, 1980).
With the picro-SR pol method, we observed postpartum uteri to determine where collagenolytic activity
within the tissue compartment is most evident.
The animals used were female mice of the N C S strain.
They were reared under a 12-hr light : 12-hr dark regimen and given food and water ad libitum. At 8 weeks of
age they were mated. Successful mating was validated
by vaginal plug. Since collagen degradation starts after
the day of parturition in rodents (rat: Harkness, 1964;
mouse: Shimizu and Hokano, 19871, the animals were
killed on the day of parturition, or 1, 2, 3, 5 or 10 days
post partum. All animals were allowed to suckle their
0 1988 ALAN R. LISS. INC.
pups. After sacrifice, the uterine horns were dissected
and weighed. The uterine horns taken from 10-weekold diestrous virgin mice served a s controls.
A whole uterine horn was frozen at -20°C to determine hydroxyproline (Hyp). A whole horn was put into
one test tube with a screw cap, and 2 ml 6 N HC1 was
added. The samples were hydrolyzed a t 130°C for 3 hr
in a n electric drying oven (FS-42D, Advantic, Tokyo).
Hydroxyproline levels were determined in these hydrolysates according to the method of Woessner (1961).The
results were represented as total Hyp content per pair
of uterine horns.
Several portions of uterine horn were fixed with 10%
buffered formalin for 24 hr. They were then dehydrated
in alcohol, passed through xylene, and embedded in
paraffin. Sections 3 pm thick were deparaffinized and
stained for 1 h r in picro-SR solution (0.1% Sirius red
FB200 in saturated aqueous picric acid; Sweat et al.,
1964). Since the results produced by SR FB200 were
similar to results for SR F3BA (Zambrano et al., 19821,
we used SR FB200 (Polysciences, Warrington, PA, USA).
As collagen molecules are rich in basic groups, this
protein reacts with acidic dyes. When collagen is stained
with the elongated strongly acidic dye SR, collagen birefringence increases considerably because the axes of
both the collagen molecules and the dye bonds are parallel. As collagen is the only oriented basic protein so
far described in animal tissues, this enhancement in
birefringence is specific for oriented collagen (Junqueira
Received February 3, 1987; accepted July 28, 1987.
Address reprint requests t o K. Shimizu Ph.D., Department of Anatomy, Tokyo Medical College, 6-1-1Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo 160,
On postpartum day 5, collagen bundles reappeared in
the subluminal compartment of the endometrium, where
most of collagen bundles had been removed until postpartum day 3 (Figs. 4 and 10). The distribution of collagen bundles in the endometrium on postpartum day 10
(Fig. 5) was similar to the pattern of nulliparous animals
(Fig. 1).
Organ Weight and Chemical Analysis
Although muscle fascicles became thin during the
Both the organ weight and total Hyp content de- postpartum period (compare Fig. 2 with Fig. 3), removal
creased to the nulliparous level on day 10 post partum of collagen bundles around muscle fascicles was not
(Table 1). Total Hyp content decreased more rapidly evident.
than did organ weight during postpartum involution.
Decrease of organ weight was high from the day of
The rate of collagenase turnover was measured by
parturition to postpartum day 2 (Fs = 216, df 2,66, P <
0.01). The overall variance for the organ weight was analyzing tissue levels of Hyp from the day of parturisignificant (Fs = 247, df5, 118, P < 0.01). The weight tion to postpartum day 10. Collagenase activity was
decreased by 60% on postpartum day 2 compared to the high during the first two postpartum days. This result
day of parturition. After postpartum day 3 the weight agrees with biochemical studies (Jeffrey et al., 1971;
Halme and Woessner, 1975). On the day of parturition,
decreased gradually (Fs = 133, df 2,52, P < 0.01).
Hydroxyproline content decreased by 90% on postpar- there is little collagenase, the majority being procollatum day 2 compared to the day of parturition (Fs = 162, genase that is not yet activated (Woessner, 1979; Roswit
df 2, 66, P < 0.01). The overall variance for the Hyp et al., 1983).The principal cellular origin of procollagecontent was very significant (Fs = 227, df 5, 118, P < nase is obscure. Procollagenase synthesized by fibroblasts
0.01). After postpartum day 3 relatively little Hyp was is similar in structure to procollagenase in the postpartum uterus (Woessner, 1977). However, with regard to
removed (Fs = 47, df2, 52, P < 0.01).
this similarity, given simply that the structure of an
enzyme is similar in various organs, it cannot be known
Histological Analysis
whether the enzyme is produced by the same cells in
In the uterus of nulliparous animals, collagen bundles each organ. Fibroblasts synthesize collagen and prodistributed in the whole endometrium and around the collagenase simultaneously (Birkendal-Hansen et al.,
muscle fascicles in the myometrium (Fig. 1).
1976). As collagen molecules polymerize to form fibers,
On the day of Parturition, collagen bundles existed in procollagenase may be woven into the collagen fibers. It
the immediate subluminal compartment of the endome- is probable that there will be collagen-bound collagenase
trium (Fig. 6). Although much Hyp was removed from in the postpartum uterus (Ryan and Woessner, 1971;
the day of parturition to postpartum day 1, removal of Woessner and Ryan, 1973; Perez-Tamayo, 1975) under
collagen bundles was not evident histochemically (Figs. these conditions. Immunohistochemical study (Montfort
2 and 7). On postpartum day 2, when most of Hyp was and Perez-Tamayo, 1975) shows that collagenase distribremoved, disappearance of collagen bundles was ob- utes in the whole uterus on the day of parturition.
served in the immediate subluminal compartment of the
Procollagenase is activated by collagenase-activating
endometrium (Fig. 8). Removal of collagen bundles was proteases derived from serum under physiological conmore apparent in the immediate subluminal compart- ditions (Eeckhout and Vaes, 1977; Werb et al., 1977).
ment than in the deep compartment of the endome- Passage of collagenase-activating proteases to uterine
trium. On postpartum day 3, a majority of the collagen tissue from serum is induced by high vascular permebundles in the subluminal compartment of the endome- ability on the day of parturition (Shimizu and Hokano,
trium were removed (Figs. 3 and 9). Some collagen bun- 1987). On the proestrous day, plasminogen activator acdles remained in the deep compartment of the tivity is high in the subluminal compartment of the
endometrium (Fig. 3).
endometrium but not in both the deep compartment of
the endometrium and the myometrium (Kwaan and Albrechtsen, 1966). Estradiol in the plasma on the day of
parturition is similar in concentration to that of the
TABLE 1. Organ weight (mg) and total hydroxyproline
proestrous day in the cyclic mouse (McCormack and
content (mg) in nulliparous and postpartum uteri
Greenwald, 1974). Conversion from plasminogen to plas(mean SE)
min by plasminogen activator occurs most effectively in
the subluminal compartment of the endometrium. Thus,
hydroxyproline %
the discrete collagenolytic response of the suluminal
compartment of the endometrium may reflect a n amount
10 55 & 2
3.6 f 0.3
of plasmin that activates procollagenase. Whether other
29 576 f 23** (100) 92.8 f 4.0** (100) collagenase-activating proteases participate in activation of procollagenase during postpartum collagen degDav 1
2 1 379 f 21** (66) 50.3 f 3.1** (54)
7.9 f 0.3** (9)
radation is obscure.
19 224 I 9 * * (39)
D& 2
7.1 0.5** (8)
Day 3
16 162 f 5**
Most of the collagen bundles are extracellularly de(19)
0.3** (5)
Day 5
19 110 f 5**
graded (Shimizu and Maekawa, 1983). Procollagenase
3.4 f 0.2
20 62 3
Day 10
on the surface of collagen bundles may be activated by
**P < 0.01 compared with nulliparous animals. Percentage of the plasmin initially. Activated collagenase may cleave colparturition value is represented in parentheses.
lagen molecules in quick succession from the surface of
et al., 1979). The stained sections were viewed by a light
microscope with a polarizing filter (Olympus, BH-2,
Data were analyzed by one-way analysis of variance
or Student’s t test.
Figs. 1-5. Collagen bundle distribution. Picrosirius red polarization.
~ 5 0 E,
. endometrium; L, uterine lumen; IM, inner muscle layer; OM,
outer muscle layer.
Fig. 3. Postpartum day 3, when collagen degradation has finished
(Table 1).Removal of collagen bundles is most evident in the immediate subluminal compartment of the endometrium. Although muscle
fascicles have thinned, removal of collagen bundles is not apparent.
Fig. 1. Nulliparous animals. Collagen bundles distributed in the
whole endometrium and around the muscle fascicles.
day 5. Collagen bundles have reappeared in the
Fig. 4,
immediate subluminal compartment of the endometrium.
Fig. 2. Postpartum day 1. Collagen bundles distributed similarly as
in nulliparous animal.
Fig. 5. Postpartum day 10. In the endometrium, distribution of collagen bundles is similar to the pattern of nulliparous animals Pig. 1).
Fig. 6-10. Collagen bundle distribution. Picrosirius red polarization.
x260. EP, luminal epithelium; UG, uterine gland.
Fig. 8. Postpartum day 2. Collagen bundles are degraded from the
immediate subliminal compartment of the endometrium.
Fig. 6. Day of parturition. Collagen bundles occur in the subluminal
compartment of the endometrium.
Fig. 9. Postpartum day 3.Most of the collagen bundles in the immediate subluminal compartment of the endometrium have disappeared.
Fig. 7. Postpartum day 1. Although collagen degradation is high,
removal of collagen bundles is not apparent.
Fig. 10. Postpartum day 5. Collagen bundles have reappeared in the
immediate subluminal compartment of the endometrium.
collagen bundles. Since small peptides derived from the
collagen degradation are rapidly removed by the blood
stream (Shimizu et al., 1986), this hypothesis would provide a mechanism for the extremely rapid and extensive
(90%)breakdown of collagen during postpartum uterine
After most of the collagen bundles are removed from
the postpartum uterus, collagenase activity is low
(Woessner, 1977, 1979). The reappearance of collagen
bundles in the subluminal compartment of the endometrium indicates that collagen synthesis exceeds its degradation. On postpartum day 10, the distribution of
collagen bundles became similar to the pattern of nulliparous animals.
Small peptides derived from the collagen molecule are
known to be chemotactic for human monocytes in vitro
(Postlethwaite and Kang, 1976). Such endogenous antigenic stimulation by fragments of collagen molecules
would be local, strong, and temporary and might lead to
the cellular manifestations of transient inflammation
and/or humoral immune response (Padykula, 1976). For
example, macrophages disappear from the endometrium
after collagen degradation has finished (Padykula, 1976;
Padykula and Campbell, 1976; Padykula and Taylor,
1976). The cellular and tissue manifestations of inflammation and local humoral response might represent normal regulatory mechanisms involved in the extracellular
compartment of the endometrial stroma. Moreover, these
regulatory mechanisms are most likely influenced by
plasma and tissue levels of estrogen and progesterone
(Padykula, 1981).
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uterus, removal, postpartum, involution, murine, collagen, bundles
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