Postdoctoral Research Fellow
Uterosacral ligaments (USLs) provide structural support to the female pelvic floor, and a loss of USL structural integrity or biomechanical function may induce pelvic organ prolapse (POP). Alterations in extracellular matrix composition and organization dictate USL mechanical function. Changes in USL microstructure and corresponding mechanical properties, however, are not fully understood, nor is it understood how microstructure and mechanics change with onset and progression of POP. This is due, in part, as USL properties are primarily characterized along a single direction (uniaxial test), whereas the USL is loaded in multiple directions simultaneously within the body. Biaxial testing permits the acquisition of biomechanical data from two axes simultaneously, and thus simulates a more physiologic assessment compared to the traditional uniaxial testing. Therefore, the objective of this study was to quantify the biaxial biomechanical properties and histological composition of the USL in post-menopausal women with and without POP at various stages. Potential correlations between tissue microstructural composition and mechanical function were also examined. Tangential modulus was lower and peak stretch higher in POP III/IV compared to non-POP and POP I/II in the main in vivo loading direction; however, no significant differences in mechanical properties were observed in the perpendicular loading direction. Collagen content positively correlated to tangential modulus in the main in vivo loading direction (r = 0.5, p = 0.02) and negatively correlated with the peak stretch in both the main in vivo (r = -0.5, p = 0.02) and perpendicular loading directions (r = -0.3, p = 0.05). However, no statistically significant differences in USL composition were observed, which may be due to the small sample size and high variability of small sections of human tissues. These results provide first step towards understanding what microstructural and mechanical changes may occur in the USL with POP onset and progression. Such information may provide important future insights into the development of new surgical reconstruction techniques and graft materials for POP treatment.