The American journal of pathology

Estetrol, a Fetal Selective Estrogen Receptor Modulator, Acts on the Vagina of Mice through Nuclear Estrogen Receptor α Activation.

PMID 28827141


The genitourinary syndrome of menopause has a negative impact on quality of life of postmenopausal women. The treatment of vulvovaginal atrophy includes administration of estrogens. However, oral estrogen treatment is controversial because of its potential risks on venous thrombosis and breast cancer. Estetrol (E4) is a natural estrogen synthesized exclusively during pregnancy by the human fetal liver and initially considered as a weak estrogen. However, E4 was recently evaluated in phase 1 to 2 clinical studies and found to act as an oral contraceptive in combination with a progestin, without increasing the level of coagulation factors. We recently showed that E4 stimulates uterine epithelial proliferation through nuclear estrogen receptor (ER) α, but failed to elicit endothelial responses. Herein, we first evaluated the morphological and functional impacts of E4 on the vagina of ovariectomized mice, and we determined the molecular mechanism mediating these effects. Vaginal epithelial proliferation and lubrication after stimulation were found to increase after E4 chronic treatment. Using a combination of pharmacological and genetic approaches, we demonstrated that these E4 effects on the vagina are mediated by nuclear ERα activation. Altogether, we demonstrate that the selective activation of nuclear ERα is both necessary and sufficient to elicit functional and structural effects on the vagina, and therefore E4 appears promising as a therapeutic option to improve vulvovaginal atrophy.