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I Z MacKenzie

Around 20% of all deliveries are preceded by labour induction, a proportion that has not varied dramatically over recent years. Fetal death was the only indication for labour induction centuries ago, while this is now a very rare indication, with prolonged pregnancy and maternal hypertensive disorders being the major indications for the last 50–60 years. Techniques for inducing labour have also changed from dietary delicacies and verbal threats giving way to physical stimulation mainly achieved by cervical stretching and amniotomy and more recently to sophisticated pharmacological manipulation using oxytocin and prostaglandins, based on our expanding knowledge of the physiological processes involved in spontaneous parturition. Relaxin, antiprogestins, nitric oxide as well as complementary medicines have also been explored in recent years. Successful induction is, however, still not guaranteed and there has been increasing emphasis during the past decade on exploring strategies for identifying the probability of success. Measurement of fetal fibronectin in cervical mucus, maternal serum nitrite/nitrate concentrations, ultrasound delineation of cervical form and electrical impedance measurements across the cervix are all being investigated. Safety, success, and patient satisfaction continue to be the major objectives with economic evaluations now becoming a significant factor in the search for the ideal induction method.

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S. Phaneuf, G. N. Europe-Finner, I. Z. MacKenzie, S. P. Watson, and A. López Bernal

The role of oestradiol in the control of uterine responsiveness to oxytocin was investigated by measuring oxytocin-induced phospholipase C activation in [3H]inositol-labelled cultured human myometrial cells. Addition of oestradiol to steroid-free culture medium (10% (v/v) fetal calf serum treated with dextran-coated charcoal in phenol red-free medium) enhanced formation of inositol phosphates and this effect was completely abolished by the anti-oestrogen tamoxifen. The inhibitory effect of tamoxifen on oxytocin-induced phospholipase C activation occurred in both steroid-free and complete culture medium; it was time- and concentration-dependent and was only partly reversed by oestradiol. When phospholipase C was activated with PGF or fluoroaluminate instead of oxytocin, oestradiol and tamoxifen had the same stimulatory and inhibitory effects, respectively. The inhibitory effect of tamoxifen could not be prevented by treating the cells with pertussis toxin. Moreover, the effect of tamoxifen was not mediated by inhibition of protein kinase C, since the use of staurosporine (a protein kinase inhibitor) resulted in potentiation of phospholipase C activation by oxytocin. Both oestradiol and tamoxifen increased [3H]inositol incorporation into cellular lipids and cell proliferation. These results suggest that oestradiol enhances myometrial responsiveness to oxytocin and other agonists by facilitating phospholipase C activation at a post-receptor level. This effect is antagonized by tamoxifen; however, tamoxifen also has oestrogen-independent inhibitory effects.