Estrogen stimulates water imbibition in the uterine endometrium. This water then crosses the epithelial cells into the lumen, leading to a decrease in viscosity of uterine luminal fluid. To gain insight into the mechanisms underlying this estrogen-stimulated water transport, we have explored the expression profile and functionality of water channels termed aquaporins (AQPs) in the ovariectomized mouse uterus treated with ovarian steroid hormones. Using immunocytochemical analysis and immunoprecipitation techniques, we have found that AQP-1, -3, and -8 were constitutively expressed. AQP-1 expression was restricted to the myometrium and may be slightly regulated by ovarian steroid hormones. AQP-3 was expressed at low levels in the epithelial cells and myometrium, whereas AQP-8 was found in both the stromal cells and myometrium. AQP-2 was absent in vehicle controls but strongly up-regulated by estrogen in the epithelial cells and myometrium of the uterus. This localization implicates all four isotypes in movement of water during uterine imbibition and, based on their localization to the luminal epithelial cells, AQP-2 and -3 in facilitating water movement into the lumen of the uterus. The analysis of the plasma membrane permeability of luminal epithelial cells by two separate cell swelling assays confirmed a highly increased water permeability of these cells in response to estrogen treatment. This finding suggests that estrogen decreases the luminal fluid viscosity, in part, by enhancing the water permeability of the epithelial layer, most likely by increasing the expression of AQP-2 and/or the availability of AQP-3. Together these results provide novel information concerning the mechanism by which estrogen controls water imbibition and luminal fluid viscosity in the mouse uterus.
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