Estradiol (E) and progesterone (P) act on the primate endometrium to induce dramatic changes in the vascular system during the menstrual cycle. These changes include vessel breakdown and bleeding during menses, heightened angiogenesis during the early proliferative phase, and extensive growth of the spiral arteries in the luteal phase of the cycle. Because steroid hormone action is dependent upon the presence of specific nuclear receptors in target tissues, we used immunocytochemistry with receptor-specific monoclonal antibodies to characterize the spatial and temporal expression of estrogen receptor alpha (ERα), estrogen receptor beta (ERβ), progesterone receptor PR and androgen (A) receptor (AR) in the endometrial vessels of rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta). The only sex steroid receptor that was present in the endothelium and smooth muscle walls of endometrial vessels was ERβ. ERα, PR, and AR were not detectable in either the endothelium or vascular smooth muscle cells of primate endometrial vessels. However, all of these receptors were strongly expressed by the perivascular stroma, and in these cells, all were modulated by the changes in levels of E and P during the cycle. We concluded that any direct effects of E on endometrial vessels would be mediated by ERβ, and that the actions of P and A, and possibly some of E, were indirectly mediated through perivascular stromal cells.
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