Craig Ulrich: Regulation of uterine contraction and early labor prevention

Craig Ulrich

Title

Regulation of uterine contraction and early labor prevention

Department

Psychology

Biosketch

My research is focused on several projects geared toward understanding the molecular mechanisms that contribute to the regulation of uterine smooth muscle contraction and the onset of labor. I am working with Dr. Burkin to elucidate the role of matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) in the regulation of uterine contraction and birth timing. We have shown that expression and activity of MMPs 2 and 9 are elevated in the smooth muscle of the preterm laboring uterus, and that the inhibition of these enzymes reduces contraction in human uterine tissue and delays birth in mice (Ulrich et al., 2019). We are currently working to determine specific mechanisms of MMP9 action in uterine smooth muscle, as well as if MMP inhibition prevents preterm delivery in preclinical animal models.

Project overview

The long-term goal of our research is to understand the regulation of uterine contraction and labor, and to develop new therapies to prevent infants form being born too early. Our laboratory was the first to show that metallopeptidase enzymes (MMP2 and MMP9) are elevated in the preterm laboring uterus, and that inhibition of these enzymes reduces contraction in human uterine tissue and delays birth in mice. We are currently working to determine if MMP inhibition prevents preterm birth in mouse models. Other projects in the lab include examining the effects of mechanical stretch, infection, and cannabinoids on uterine function. Finally, we have developed a 3D-bioprinted model of human uterine smooth muscle that we are working to characterize and improve for use in gene editing and drug discovery experiments. Techniques undergraduate students learn in our lab include cell culture, bioprinting, immunofluorescence and microscopy, nucleic acid and protein purification, qPCR, western blotting, working with mice, contraction experiments, and more!