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ORIGINAL RESEARCH—BASIC SCIENCE: Differential Regulation of the Expression of Estrogen, Progesterone, and Androgen Receptors by Sex Steroid Hormones in the Vagina: Immunohistochemical Studies


Abdulmaged Traish, Boston University—Laboratory for Sexual Medicine Research, 720 Harrison Avenue, Suite 600 Boston, MA 02118, USA. Tel: 617-638-4578; Fax: 617-638-5412; E-mail:


Objective.  Significant structural changes occur in the rat vagina in response to sex steroid hormone deprivation and replacement. However, the mechanism by which these changes occur is not clearly understood and our current hypothesis is that these effects are mediated, at least in part, by the expression of sex steroid hormone receptors. The goal of this study was to assess changes in steroid hormone receptor expression and distribution in response to sex steroid hormone deprivation and administration.

Methods.  Female rats were either kept intact (controls) or ovariectomized. Ovariectomized animals were treated with vehicle, estradiol, testosterone, progesterone, or hormone combinations. Using immunohistochemistry, hormone receptor distribution was assessed in all layers of the vaginal wall.

Results.  After ovariectomy, estrogen receptor alpha (ERα) was up-regulated and progesterone receptor (PR) was down-regulated. Estradiol replacement restored these ovariectomy-induced changes, and this effect was dose-dependent. Androgen receptor (AR) expression was unaffected by ovariectomy or estradiol replacement. However, testosterone treatment resulted in increased AR density in the muscularis. Addition of either testosterone or progesterone to estradiol mitigated but did not abolish the effects of estradiol alone.

Conclusion.  Estradiol down-regulated ERα and up-regulated PR expression in the vagina, suggesting this may be a mechanism to prevent continued proliferation of the epithelium by surges of estradiol during the estrous cycle. Pessina MA, Hoyt RF, Goldstein I, and Traish AM. Differential regulation of the expression of estrogen, progesterone, and androgen receptors by sex steroid hormones in the vagina: Immunohistochemical Studies. J Sex Med 2006;3:804–814.