Objectives of the study were to determine developmental changes in morphology and expression of androgen receptor (AR) and estrogen receptor (ER)α in the body of the rat penis exposed neonatally to diethylstilbestrol (DES). Male pups received DES at a dose of 10 μg per rat on alternate days from Postnatal Day 2 to Postnatal Day 12. Controls received olive oil vehicle only. Tissue samples were collected on Days 18 (prepuberty), 41 (puberty), and 120 (adult) of age. DES-induced abnormalities were evident at 18 days of age and included smaller, lighter, and thinner penis, loss of cavernous spaces and associated smooth muscle cells, and increased deposition of fat cells in the corpora cavernosa penis. Fat cells virtually filled the entire area of the corpora cavernosa at puberty and adulthood. Plasma testosterone (T) was reduced to an undetectable level, while LH was unaltered in all treated groups. AR-positive cells were ubiquitous and their profile (incidence and staining intensity) did not differ between control and treated rats of the respective age groups. Conversely, ERα-positive cells were limited to the stroma of corpus spongiosus in all age groups of both control and treated rats, but the expression in treated rats at 18 days was up-regulated in stromal cells of corpora cavernosa, coincident with the presence of morphological abnormalities. Hence, this study reports for the first time DES-induced developmental, morphological abnormalities in the body of the penis and suggests that these abnormalities may have resulted from decreased T and/or overexpression of ERα.
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