The aim of this study was to review the preclinical data showing the role of both estrogens and androgens in the physiology of the vagina, and, most likely, in vulvovaginal atrophy of menopause.Methods:
Mass spectrometry-based assays (validated according to the FDA guidelines) for the measurement of sex steroids, their precursors, and metabolites were used. In addition to fixation of the vagina for morphological examination, histomorphometry, immunocytochemistry, immunofluorescence, and quantitative reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction were performed.Results:
The vaginal epithelium of the animals receiving dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) was made of large multilayered columnar mucous cells showing distended cytoplasmic vacuoles representative of an androgenic effect. DHEA also stimulates collagen fiber compactness of the lamina propria (second layer)—an effect essentially due to an androgenic effect, whereas stimulation by DHEA of the muscularis in the third vaginal layer is approximately 70% due to the androgenic conversion of DHEA. Stimulation of the surface area of the nerve endings, on the contrary, is exclusively androgenic. Vaginal weight stimulation by DHEA is about 50% androgenic and 50% estrogenic.Conclusions:
Practically all studies on the influence of steroid hormones in the vagina have focused on luminal epithelial cells. Since all estrogens and androgens in postmenopausal women are made intracellularly and derive from the conversion of circulating DHEA, it is of interest to observe from these preclinical data that DHEA exerts both estrogenic and androgenic activity in the three layers of the vagina, the stimulatory effect on nerve density being 100% androgenic. Taking vaginal weight as a global parameter, the stimulatory effect of DHEA in the rat vagina is about equally estrogenic and androgenic, thus illustrating the importance of androgens in vaginal morphology and function, and the likely importance of androgens in vulvovaginal atrophy of menopause.