Postnatal development of the ovine uterus between birth and Postnatal Day (PND) 56 involves differentiation of the endometrial glandular epithelium from the luminal epithelium followed by tubulogenesis and branching morphogenesis. These critical events coincide with expression of estrogen receptor α (ERα) by nascent endometrial glands and stroma. To test the working hypothesis that estrogen and uterine ERα regulate uterine growth and endometrial gland morphogenesis in the neonatal ewe, ewes were treated daily from birth (PND 0) to PND 55 with 1) saline and corn oil as a vehicle control (CX), 2) estradiol-17β (E2) valerate (EV), an ERα agonist, 3) EM-800, an ERα antagonist, or 4) CGS 20267, a nonsteroidal aromatase inhibitor. On PND 14, ewes were hemihysterectomized, and the ipsilateral oviduct and ovary were removed. The remaining uterine horn, oviduct, and ovary were removed on PND 56. Treatment with CGS 20267 decreased plasma E2 levels, whereas EM-800 had no effect compared with CX ewes. Uterine horn weight and length were not affected by EM-800 or CGS 20267 but were decreased in EV ewes on PND 56. On PND 14 and PND 56, treatment with EV decreased endometrial thickness but increased myometrial thickness. The numbers of ductal gland invaginations and endometrial glands were not affected by CGS but were lower in EM-800 ewes on PND 56. Exposure to EV completely inhibited endometrial gland development and induced luminal epithelial hypertrophy but did not alter uterine cell proliferation. Exposure to EV substantially decreased expression of ERα, insulin-like growth factor (IGF) I, and IGF-II in the endometrium. Results indicate that circulating E2 does not regulate endometrial gland differentiation or development. Although ERα does not regulate initial differentiation of the endometrial glandular epithelium, results indicate that ERα does regulate, in part, coiling and branching morphogenesis of endometrial glands in the neonatal ewe. Ablation of endometrial gland genesis by EV indicates that postnatal uterine development is extremely sensitive to the detrimental effects of inappropriate steroid exposure.
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