Comparative Immunological Effects of a Natural Estrogen (17Î²-estradiol) versus a Pharmacologic Synthetic Estrogen (17Î±-ethinyl estradiol)
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In separate studies, intact juvenile female and male C57BL/6 mice were given daily subcutaneous (second study) or oral (third study) doses of either EE or E2 (0.04, 0.4, or 4.0 Î¼g per 25 g BW) for 21 days. In the subcutaneous exposure study, both EE and E2 morphologically altered uterine and seminal vesicle weights. However, EE had a more pronounced effect compared to E2, especially in males, even at the lowest dose administered. Additionally, like E2, EE induced thymic atrophy in both sexes. In female mice, thymic atrophy and thymic cellularity were significantly decreased by subcutaneous EE and E2 at doses of 0.4 and 4.0 Î¼g/25 g body weights. EE elicited significantly more pronounced thymic atrophy-inducing effects compared to E2 at the 4.0 Î¼g/25g dose. In males, thymocyte cellularity was decreased by both subcutaneous EE and E2 only at the highest dose tested (4.0 Î¼g/25 g body weight), whereas only 4.0 EE significantly decreased thymus to body weight ratios. Neither splenic weights, splenic cellularity, nor splenic cell phenotype were affected by either estrogenic compound regardless of route of exposure. Oral exposure of EE or E2 did not induce marked immunological effects. Collectively, these data demonstrate that select thymic and reproductive endpoints are significantly altered following a 21-day subcutaneous exposure to either EE or E2 and that the thymus is a more sensitive target than the spleen with regard to subacute exposure to EE. In addition, EE at a comparable dose was more potent than E2 at exerting thymic and reproductive organ morphological alterations. Furthermore, route of administration is critical, as subcutaneous exposure induced far more dramatic thymic and reproductive morphological alterations than did oral administration. Future studies need to address the precise mechanism through which EE induces thymic atrophy and diminished thymus cellularity. Are these effects mediated directly through the thymus, perhaps through estrogen-induced increased thymocyte apoptosis or alterations to thymic epithelial cells? Or could EE be mediating alterations via bone marrow stem cells targeted for distribution to the thymus? Our novel findings regarding EE-induced effects on the thymus are of health significance and set the stage for future work.
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