Today it is generally held that the vagina develops from sinovaginal bulbs and that the lower third of the definitive vagina is derived from the urogenital sinus. Here we show that the entire vagina arises by downward growth of Wolffian and Müllerian ducts, that the sinovaginal bulbs are in fact the caudal ends of the Wolffian ducts, and that vaginal development is under negative control of androgens. We designed a genetic experiment in which the androgen receptor defect in the Tfm mouse was used to examine the effects of androgens. Vaginal development was studied by 3D reconstruction in androgen-treated female embryos and in complete androgen-insensitive littermates. In androgen-treated females, descent of the genital ducts was inhibited, and a vagina formed in androgen-insensitive Tfm embryos as it does in normal females. By immmunohistochemical localization of the androgen receptor in normal mouse embryos, we demonstrated that the androgen receptor was expressed in Wolffian duct and urogenital sinus-derived structures, and was entirely absent in the Müllerian duct derivatives. We conclude that the Wolffian ducts are instrumental in conveying the negative control by androgens on vaginal development. The results are discussed under evolutionary aspects at the transition from marsupial to eutherian mammals.
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