Cavernous smooth muscle cells are essential components in penile erection. In this study, we investigated effects of estrogen exposure on biomarkers for smooth muscle cell differentiation in the penis. Neonatal rats received diethylstilbestrol (DES), with or without the estrogen receptor (ESR) antagonist ICI 182,780 (ICI) or the androgen receptor (AR) agonist dihydrotestosterone (DHT), from Postnatal Days 1 to 6. Tissues were collected at 7, 10, or 21 days of age. The smooth muscle cell biomarker MYH11 was studied in depth because microarray data showed it was significantly down-regulated, along with other biomarkers, in DES treatment. Quantitative real time-PCR and Western blot analyses showed 50%–80% reduction (P ≤ 0.05) in Myh11 expression in DES-treated rats compared to that in controls; and ICI and DHT coadministration mitigated the decrease. Temporally, from 7 to 21 days of age, Myh11 expression was onefold increased (P ≥ 0.05) in DES-treated rats versus threefold increased (P ≤ 0.001) in controls, implying the long-lasting inhibitory effect of DES on smooth muscle cell differentiation. Immunohistochemical localization of smooth muscle alpha actin, another biomarker for smooth muscle cell differentiation, showed fewer cavernous smooth muscle cells in DES-treated animals than in controls. Additionally, DES treatment significantly up-regulated Esr1 mRNA expression and suppressed the neonatal testosterone surge by 90%, which was mitigated by ICI coadministration but not by DHT coadministration. Collectively, results provided evidence that DES treatment in neonatal rats inhibited cavernous smooth muscle cell differentiation, as shown by down-regulation of MYH11 expression at the mRNA and protein levels and by reduced immunohistochemical staining of smooth muscle alpha actin. Both the ESR and the AR pathways probably mediate this effect.
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Vol. 87 • No. 5