On the basis of results of studies using high doses of estrogens, exposure to estrogen during fetal life is known to inhibit prostate development. However, it is recognized in endocrinology that low concentrations of a hormone can stimulate a tissue, while high concentrations can have the opposite effect. We report here that a 50% increase in free-serum estradiol in male mouse fetuses (released by a maternal Silastic estradiol implant) induced a 40% increase in the number of developing prostatic glands during fetal life; subsequently, in adulthood, the number of prostatic androgen receptors per cell was permanently increased by 2-fold, and the prostate was enlarged by 30% (due to hyperplasia) relative to untreated males. However, as the free serum estradiol concentration in male fetuses was increased from 2- to 8-fold, adult prostate weight decreased relative to males exposed to the 50% increase in estradiol. As a model for fetal exposure to man-made estrogens, pregnant mice were fed diethylstilbestrol (DES) from gestation days 11 to 17. Relative to controls, DES doses of 0.02, 0.2, and 2.0 ng per g of body weight per day increased adult prostate weight, whereas a 200-ng-per-g dose decreased adult prostate weight in male offspring. Our findings suggest that a small increase in estrogen may modulate the action of androgen in regulating prostate differentiation, resulting in a permanent increase in prostatic androgen receptors and prostate size. For both estradiol and DES, prostate weight first increased then decreased with dose, resulting in an inverted-U dose-response relationship.
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