Acute and chronic estrogen supplementation decreases uterine sympathetic innervation in ovariectomized adult virgin rats

P. G. Smith, R. H. Alper, A. L. Mize, E. V. Zoubina


Uterine innervation undergoes substantial reorganization associated with changes in reproductive status. Nerves innervating the uterus are decreased in U pregnancy and puberty, and even the normal rodent estrous cycle is characterized by fluctuations in numbers of myometrial nerve fibers. During the follicular (proestrus/estrous) phase of the estrous cycle, intact nerves are rapidly depleted and then return over the next 2-3 days in the luteal (metestrus/diestrus) phase. We hypothesize that uterine nerve depletion is initiated by increased circulating estrogen in the follicular phase. However. studies have not shown whether estro"ge n can reduce uterine innervation and, if so, whether the time course is compatible with the rapid changes observed in the estrous cycle. These questions were addressed in the present study. Mature ovariectomized virgin rats received 17-B-estradiol as a single injection (10 pg/kg s.c.) or chronically from timed-release pellets (0.1 pglpellet for 3 weeks sustained release). Total (protein gene-product 9.5-immunoreactive) and sympathetic (dopamine B-hydroxylase-immunoreactive) uterine innervation was assessed quantitatively. Both total and sympathetic innervation was abundant in uterine longitudinal smooth muscle of ovariectomized rats. However, following acute or chronic estrogen administration, total and sympathetic fiber numbers were markedly decreased. This was not due to altered uterine size, as reductions persisted after correcting for size differences. Our results indicate that sympathetic nerves are lost from uterine smooth muscle after estradiol treatment in a manner similar to that seen in the intact animal during estrus and pregnancy. This suggests that the rise in estradiol prior to estrus is sufficient to deplete uterine sympathetic innervation.


neuroplasticity; uterus; estrous cycle; adrenergic; autonomic

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