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Arch Hellen Med, 29(3), May-June 2012, 311-318


The role of estrogens in prostate development: Walk-ons or hidden stars?

G. Lavranos, R. Angelopoulou
Department of Histology-Embryology, Medical School, National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Athens, Greece

Androgens and estrogens have been a central issue in the study of the endocrinology of reproduction for several decades, because of their significance for sexual differentiation. The initial perception of exclusive expression of sexspecific hormones has now been substituted by a more complex pattern of interactions, in which the relative concentrations of various hormones and receptors according to the specific tissue and developmental stage are believed to determine the final phenotype. In the case of the prostate, the role of androgens in prostatic development is crucial; however, estrogens also play a significant role in the delicate regulation of the phenomenon. In particular, aromatization and expression of estrogen receptor alpha are prerequisites for the induction of branching morphogenesis and the differentiation-functional specialization of the gland. Overexposure to external estrogens during the perinatal period disturbs the subsequent development of the organ in a non-reversible manner, via the imprinting phenomenon. The consequences of this may vary, depending on the lobe, the cellular population and the developmental stage of the prostate, and are related to the expression of genes that control cellular adhesion and differentiation. Under androgen depletion conditions, the expression of the estrogen receptor is necessary to sustain the gland, and this requires the combined substitution of both testosterone and estrogens. It is of note that imprinting and certain polymorphisms of the estrogen receptor can both affect the likelihood of development of benign prostatic hyperplasia or carcinoma. For these reasons, better understanding of the details of the regulatory role of estrogens and their receptors in prostate physiology and pathophysiology may, in the near future, provide the foundation for the development of novel therapeutic options (e.g. SERMS).

Key words: Androgens, Dimorphism, Estrogens, Imprinting, Prostate.

© Archives of Hellenic Medicine