Annually, premature birth is a major public health problem accounting for over 13,000 deaths and 30,000 surviving infants with life-long morbidity. Preterm premature rupture of the membranes is the initiating event leading to preterm birth of 40% of these premature infants. Fetalmembrane (FM) rupture is a catastrophic tissue failure, a unique event in normal physiology; other tissue failures (bone breaks, aneurism ruptures) are pathological processes. The mechanisms which cause FM failure and thereby rupture are not understood. A full understanding of FM failure process requires a complete characterization of structural and biomechanical behavior at near/full term under sub-failure (forces well below that which induce rupture) and failure conditions as well as elucidating the biological factors which modulate its failure. The relatively, highly loaded state of the FM in vivo may also facilitate its susceptibility to enzymatic degradation, which was shown to be augmented with increased load in collagenous tissues. Indeed, this last observation may help to provide the link between biomechanical degradation and premature mechanical failure in the FM. This integrated approach will further the understanding of this unique physiological event and thereby provide insight into how to anticipate and when appropriate, intervene to prevent preterm FM rupture. © 2009 Elsevier Ireland Ltd.
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