An immunohistochemical study of androgen, oestrogen and progesterone receptors in the vulva and vagina


Correspondence: Professor A.B. MacLean, University Departmentof Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine, Rowland Hill Street, London NW3 2QG, UK.


Objective Tomap potential sites of sex steroid action in the human vulva.

Methods Monoclonal antibodies to androgen, oestrogen and progesterone receptors were used to stainfrozen sections of vulval skin, vagina and suprapubic skin. A scoring system was devised to comparereceptor distribution in the epidermis and dermis of skin with vaginal epithelium and stroma.

Results Androgen receptors were seen in epidermal keratinocytes, sebaceous glands, sweat glands, hairfollicles and dermal fibroblasts of skin, and epithelial cells and stromal fibroblasts of the vagina. Androgen receptor scores were significantly higher in the epidermis of labia majora and minora thanin vaginal epithelium. Oestrogen receptors were seen in basal and suprabasal cells of vaginalepithelium and epidermis of labia minora but were restricted to basal keratinocytes in true skin.They were seen in stromal fibroblasts and vaginal smooth muscle, and dermal fibroblasts of theskin. Oestrogen receptors were highest in vaginal epithelium and stroma, and lowest insuprapubic skin. Progesterone receptors were seen in vaginal epithelium, fibroblasts and smoothmuscle but not in the vulva. There was no evidence of significant differences in androgen oroestrogen receptor staining in the vulva of pre- or postmenopausal women.

Conclusion The transition from vagina to vulva is marked by an increase in androgen and a decrease inoestrogen and progesterone receptors. This distribution of receptors would indicate a limited role foroestrogen creams on the vulva.