How a gene called HAND2 may impact the timing of labor

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A new study illuminates how a gene called HAND2 may have a hand in the timing of human labor.

“We don’t know why humans go into labor. It’s a basic aspect of human biology that we just don’t know the answer to, and it’s kind of embarrassing that we don’t,” says senior author Vincent Lynch, an evolutionary biologist at the University at Buffalo. “What happens in many other animals is that as gestation goes on, the level of progesterone keeps going up, and then a few hours before birth, progesterone levels drop to pre-pregnancy levels. Progesterone inhibits contractions, so once you lose it, the uterus starts contracting and the baby is born.

“But in humans, this isn’t what happens — progesterone levels don’t drop off. So we need to find another explanation for why labor begins.”

The research was published on Feb. 1 in the journal eLife.

Lynch, assistant professor of biological sciences in the UB College of Arts and Sciences, led the study with first author Mirna Marinic, PhD, a postdoctoral researcher in the University of Chicago Department of Organismal Biology and Anatomy.

Co-authors included Katelyn Mika and Sravanthi Chigurupati, both from the University of Chicago (Chigurupati is now at AbbVie).

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The evolution of HAND2, placental mammals and pregnancy

Using new and existing datasets the team studied genes that were active in the uterine linings of different animals while pregnant or carrying eggs…

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