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The Uterus and Uterine Wall: Structure and Parts

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  • 0:05 Uterine Functions
  • 1:58 Uterine Structure
  • 3:08 Endometrium
  • 4:30 Myometrium
  • 5:16 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Heather Adewale

Heather has taught reproductive biology and has researched neuro, repro and endocrinology. She has a PhD in Zoology/Biology.

Learn all about the structure responsible for the development of babies in this lesson on uterine anatomy. Discover the three layers of the uterus and each layer's purpose.

Uterine Functions

Where do babies come from? That's the age-old awkward question that all parents eventually have to answer. And while you all know by now that the stork does not bring babies, what do you know about where they develop - that structure inside the female called the uterus?

The uterus is shaped like an upside-down pear and is located above the bladder
Pear-shaped organ

This organ, one that is unique to females, is essential for the proper development of a baby, more correctly termed a fetus. The uterus is where it all happens - fetal development, that is; the magic of reproduction. This upside-down, pear-shaped organ is located right above the female's bladder and in between the female's uterine tubes. The uterus has three main functions that aid in the development of the growing fetus:

  1. It provides mechanical protection to help prevent physical damage to the fetus.
  2. It provides nutritional support, helping the fetus gain the nutrients it needs for proper growth.
  3. It provides waste removal, helping to keep the fetal environment clean.

Now, what about when there is no developing fetus? What does the uterus do then? Well, each month when the female releases an oocyte - which is just an unfertilized egg - that oocyte has the potential to become a baby, but only if it is fertilized by a male's sperm. So each month the uterus prepares for the possibility of fertilization.

If fertilization does not occur, then the uterus starts its preparation over again the next month. This process of preparing for implantation each month is called the uterine cycle, and it involves a series of changes in the structure of the uterine wall. So in order to really understand the uterine cycle, we also have to understand the structure of the uterus.

Uterine Structure

The most important feature of the uterus is its layers - three, to be exact:

  1. The perimetrium is a thin lining connecting the uterus to the body lining.
  2. The myometrium is a thicker middle muscular layer covering the outside of the uterus. It's located in between the perimetrium and the endometrium, whose muscular nature is extremely important in providing the muscular contractions needed for childbirth.
  3. And last but not least is the endometrium, the thinner, inner layer of the uterine wall that contains a lot of glands and arteries.

The layers of the endometrium can be compared to inner sheets of a bed that require changing often
Endometrium layers

You can think about the outer muscular layer as the large, cozy comforter on your bed in the middle of winter - the one that you don't really change that often. Then that would make our inner endometrium the layers of sheets and blankets that are underneath the comforter. These are the layers that you wash and change often. That's just how the uterus works. The inner endometrium builds and changes its layers of tissue each month, while the outer myometrium stays the same. It is this inner endometrium that we'll be focusing on because of its role in the uterine cycle.

Endometrium

Of all the uterine layers, I guess we could say the endometrium is the most active - but really only one part of the endometrium. You see, there are actually two zones within the endometrium layer. There's the functional zone, which is the layer closest to the uterine cavity (that's that big space in the middle of the uterus), and there's the basilar zone, and that's the layer next to the myometrium.

It is the functional zone that undergoes the most changes during each month of a woman's cycle. The functional zone changes in both thickness and in structure, while the basilar zone stays fairly constant. These changes are the result of hormone fluctuations in women. Each month, if pregnancy does not occur, the functional zone resets by gradually shedding its tissue in a process called menses. This decreases the thickness of the functional zone and is therefore followed by the rebuilding of tissues in preparation for a potential pregnancy next month.

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