Histoarchitectural changes of the uterine cervix allow its successful adaptation to different physiological conditions. In this study, we evaluated cell turnover in each cellular compartment of the uterine cervix in association with steroid hormone receptor expression in order to establish the range of physiological changes. Proliferation, apoptosis, and progesterone receptor (PR) and estrogen receptor α (ERα) expression were evaluated in cycling, pregnant, and postpartum rats. In estrus and diestrus II, ERα and PR expression exhibited variations according to the region evaluated. Proliferation and apoptosis showed a reciprocal pattern, the epithelium being the region with higher cell turnover. High apoptotic index (AI) in estrus was associated with the lowest ERα and the highest PR scores. During pregnancy, proliferation of the epithelium was the predominant event and AI was low. On Postpartum Day 1 (PPD1), proliferation decreased while apoptosis increased. As described for the estrous cycle, during pregnancy and PPD1, AI and ERα were negatively correlated. In the fibroblastic stroma, low proliferation was observed throughout pregnancy; however, there was a net increase in cell number because very few cells underwent apoptosis. No difference in ERα was observed in fibroblastic cells during pregnancy and postpartum; however, a great decrease of this receptor in the epithelial compartment was observed after delivery. Unlike cervical epithelium, PR was highly expressed in stromal cells. At term, a dramatic increase in epithelial PR was observed. While epithelial PR remained high on PPD1, a decrease was observed in muscle stroma. These results show that, in all stages studied, 1) ERα and PR have different patterns of expression with differential responses to signals that modulate proliferation and/or apoptosis depending on the cellular compartment, and 2) even though the epithelium is the region with the highest cell turnover, the fibroblastic and muscle stroma are active regions that have their own patterns of behavior.
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