Pregnancy-induced adaptations in the intrinsic structure of rat pelvic floor muscles

Marianna Alperin, Danielle M. Lawley, Mary C. Esparza, Richard L. Lieber*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


Objective Maternal birth trauma to the pelvic floor muscles (PFMs) is a major risk factor for pelvic floor disorders. Modeling and imaging studies suggest that demands placed on PFMs during childbirth exceed their physiologic limits; however many parous women do not sustain PFM injury. Here we determine whether pregnancy induces adaptations in PFM architecture, the strongest predictor of muscle function, and/or intramuscular extracellular matrix (ECM), responsible for load bearing. To establish if parallel changes occur in muscles outside of the PFM, we also examined a hind limb muscle. Study Design Coccygeus, iliocaudalis, pubocaudalis, and tibialis anterior of 3-month-old Sprague-Dawley virgin, mid-pregnant, and late-pregnant; 6-month-old virgin; and 4- and 12-week postpartum rats (N = 10/group) were fixed in situ and harvested. Major architectural parameters determining muscle's excursion and force-generating capacity were quantified, namely, normalized fiber length (Lfn), physiologic cross-sectional area, and sarcomere length. Hydroxyproline content was used as a surrogate for intramuscular ECM quantity. Analyses were performed by 2-way analysis of variance with Tukey post hoc testing at a significance level of.05. Results Pregnancy induced a significant increase in Lfn in all PFMs by the end of gestation relative to virgin controls. Fibers were elongated by 37% in coccygeus (P <.0001), and by 21% in iliocaudalis and pubocaudalis (P <.0001). Importantly, no Lfn change was observed in the tibialis anterior. Physiologic cross-sectional area and sarcomere length were not affected by pregnancy. By 12 weeks' postpartum, Lfn of all PFMs returned to the prepregnancy values. Relative to virgin controls, ECM increased by 140% in coccygeus, 52% in iliocaudalis, and 75% in pubocaudalis in late-pregnant group, but remained unchanged across time in the tibialis anterior. Postpartum, ECM collagen content returned to prepregnancy levels in iliocaudalis and pubocaudalis, but continued to be significantly elevated in coccygeus (P <.0001). Conclusion This study demonstrates that pregnancy induces unique adaptations in the structure of the PFMs, which adjust their architectural design by adding sarcomeres in series to increase fiber length as well as mounting a substantial synthesis of collagen in intramuscular ECM.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)191.e1-191.e7
JournalAmerican journal of obstetrics and gynecology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 1 2015


  • adaptation
  • pelvic muscles
  • pregnancy
  • rat

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Obstetrics and Gynecology

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