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Tengteng Li, Jiajia Fei, Huihui Yu, Xingxing Wang, Dan Li, and Zongzhi Yin

The mechanisms underlying pre-labor uterine quiescence and uterine atony during overdistention are unclear. TREK1 (a two-pore domain potassium channel) and hypoxia-inducible factor-1α (HIF-1α) are activated by mechanical stretch, and their expression is upregulated by decreased uterine contractility. HIF-1α is a nuclear factor which regulates numerous target proteins, but whether it regulates TREK1 during uterine stretch to cause uterine quiescence and/or atony is unclear. We investigated uterine contractility at different gestational stages in rats, as well as in non-pregnant uteri, which were induced by prolonged stretching and hypoxia. We also assessed the effects of incubating the uteri with or without echinomycin or L-methionine. Moreover, we analyzed HIF-1α and TREK1 expression levels in each group, as well as at various gestational stages of pregnant human uteri. We found that contractility was significantly decreased in pregnant uteri when compared with non-pregnant uteri, and this decrease was associated with increases in HIF-1α and TREK1 expression levels. HIF-1α and TREK1 expression levels in human uteri increased with the gestational length. Decreased uterine contractility and increased HIF-1α and TREK1 expression levels were also observed in non-pregnant rat uteri under 8 g of stretching tension or hypoxia. Inhibition of hypoxia with echinomycin restored normal uterine contractility, while HIF-1α and TREK1 protein expression remained reduced. TREK1 inhibition with L-methionine also restored uterine contractility under tension or hypoxia. In conclusion, we demonstrated that prolonged stretching induces myometrial hypoxia, increases TREK1 expression, and relaxes the myometrium, which may contribute to uterine quiescence and atony.