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G Pelletier, C Labrie, and F Labrie

There is now evidence that oestrogens and androgens can influence male and female reproductive systems. In order to accurately identify the sites of action of oestrogens and androgens, we have proceeded to the histological localization of the two oestrogen receptor (ER) subtypes, ERalpha and ERbeta, and the androgen receptor (AR) in the reproductive tissues of adult rats of both sexes. AR was detected by immunocytochemistry, while ERalpha and ERbeta were localized by both immunocytochemistry and in situ hybridization. In the pituitary gland of animals of both sexes, ERalpha was found in the majority of nuclei of secretory cells in the anterior pituitary. The intermediate and posterior lobes did not show any staining. ERbeta was not found to be expressed in any of the pituitary lobes. Using AR antibodies, nuclear staining was detected in about 50% of secretory cells of the anterior lobe, the intermediate and posterior lobes being completely unstained. In the testis, ERalpha was localized in nuclei of Leydig cells as well as in round spermatocytes and spermatids, while ERbeta could only be detected in Sertoli cell nuclei. AR immunoreactivity was found in nuclei of Sertoli, peritubular myoid and Leydig cells. In the prostate, ERbeta was observed in epithelial cells of tubulo-alveoli, while the stroma was unlabelled. ERalpha was not found to be expressed in any prostate cells. In the prostate, AR was detected in nuclei of epithelial, stromal and endothelial cells. In seminal vesicles, staining of ERalpha was found in nuclei of epithelial and stromal cells. Similar findings were observed using AR antibodies. While ERbeta mRNA could not be detected by in situ hybridization, weak staining for ERbeta was localized in epithelial cells of seminal vesicles. In the ovary, both ERalpha and ERbeta were found to be expressed. ERbeta mRNA was found in granulosa cells of growing follicles, while ERalpha was present in theca cells, interstitial gland cells and germinal epithelium. AR immunoreactivity was detected in granulosa cell nuclei in growing follicles and also in scattered interstitial cells. In the oviduct and uterus, ERalpha was observed in nuclei of epithelial cells as well as of stromal and muscle cells. Similarly, AR immunoreactivity was present in nuclei of epithelial cells, stromal and muscle cells in both the oviduct and uterus. ERbeta was not detected in the oviduct and uterus. The present findings indicate a cell-specific localization of ERalpha, ERbeta and AR in reproductive tissues in rats of both sexes. By establishing the precise sites of action of oestrogens and androgens they contribute to a better understanding of the respective role of these steroids in reproduction function.

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F Pouliot and C Labrie

Bone morphogenetic proteins (BMPs) are members of the transforming growth factor-beta family of cytokines. The recent observation that BMPs can inhibit breast cancer cell proliferation in vitro suggests that BMPs or the BMP pathway may hold promise as therapeutic targets for the control of breast tumor growth in women. Better to understand the mechanism of BMP-induced growth arrest we examined the effect of BMP-2 and mediators of BMP-2 action on cell proliferation and p21(Cip1) expression in breast cancer cell lines. We show here that BMP-2 potently inhibited the proliferation of breast cancer cell lines that express both Smad1 and Smad4 (CAMA-1, MCF7, MDA-MB-231, T-47D, ZR-75-1), but not that of cells that only express Smad1 (MDA-MB-468). Growth inhibition correlated with up-regulation of p21 mRNA and protein levels. Up-regulation of p21 was resistant to cycloheximide but not to actinomycin D, suggesting that it occurred at the transcriptional level. Using p21 promoter-luciferase reporter constructs we mapped the BMP-responsive region of the p21 promoter to within 211 base pairs of the transcription start site. Induction of p21 promoter activity was rapid and coincided with up-regulation of p21 mRNA and protein levels. p21 promoter activity required both Smad1 and Smad4 and was induced by either BMP-2 or constitutively active type I BMP receptors. Moreover, the C-terminal SSVS region of Smad1 was necessary for activation of the p21 promoter by BMP-2. Taken together, these results indicate that the mechanism of BMP-induced p21 promoter activation involves BMP receptors and BMP Smads.

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A Sourla, V Richard, F Labrie, and C Labrie

In order to analyze the hormonal effects of dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) in skin sebaceous glands, the precursor steroid was administered to ovariectomized (OVX) female Sprague-Dawley rats at a dose of 30 mg applied on the dorsal skin, twice daily, for 3, 6 and 12 months. In a parallel experiment, female OVX rats were treated with DHEA at the same daily percutaneous dose of 30 mg, alone or in combination with the antiandrogen Flutamide or the pure antiestrogen EM-800, for 12 months, in order to determine the androgenic and/or estrogenic components of DHEA action. Treatment of female OVX rats with DHEA resulted in a similar mild to moderate hyperplasia of the sebaceous glands of both dorsal (site of application) and ventral skin, as illustrated by an increase in the number and size of the acini. The above-indicated effects were observed at all time intervals studied, beginning at 3 months of treatment, and they were not further increased after longer term administration of DHEA (for 6 and 12 months). The addition of Flutamide to DHEA treatment completely prevented the DHEA-induced changes in the sebaceous glands, whereas the antiestrogen EM-800 had no effect. The present data indicate an exclusive androgenic stimulatory action of DHEA on the sebaceous glands, thus pointing out the importance of local intracrine DHEA transformation into androgens for skin anatomical integrity and function, while showing that estrogens, if active in rat skin, do not originate from DHEA.

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C Labrie, M Flamand, A Bélanger, and F Labrie


Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) administered percutaneously by twice daily application for 7 days to the dorsal skin of the rat stimulates an increase in ventral prostate weight with approximately one third the potency of the compound given by subcutaneous injection. The doses required to achieve a 50% reversal of the inhibitory effect of orchiectomy are approximately 3 and 1 mg respectively. By the oral route, on the other hand, DHEA has only 10–15% of the activity of the compound given percutaneously. Taking the bioavailability obtained by the subcutaneous route as 100%, it is estimated that the potencies of DHEA by the percutaneous and oral routes are approximately 33 and 3% respectively. Similar ratios of activity were obtained when dorsal prostate and seminal vesicle weight were used as parameters of androgenic activity. When examined on an estrogen-sensitive parameter, namely uterine weight in ovariectomized rats, the stimulatory effect of DHEA was much less potent than its androgenic activity measured in the male animal, a 50% reversal of the inhibitory effect of ovariectomy on uterine weight being observed at the 3 and 30 mg doses of DHEA administered by the subcutaneous and percutaneous routes respectively. When measured on uterine weight, percutaneous DHEA thus shows a 10% potency compared with the subcutaneous route. The sulfate of DHEA (DHEA-S), on the other hand, was approximately 50% as potent as DHEA at increasing ventral prostate weight after subcutaneous or percutaneous administration. When the effect was measured on dorsal prostate and seminal vesicle weight, percutaneous DHEA-S had 10–25% of the activity of DHEA. DHEA decreased serum LH levels in ovariectomized animals, an effect which was completely reversed by treatment with the antiandrogen flutamide. On the other hand, flutamide had no significant effect on the increase in uterine weight caused by DHEA, thus suggesting a predominant estrogenic effect of DHEA at the level of the uterus and an androgenic effect on the feedback control of LH secretion. The present data show a relatively high bioavailability of percutaneous DHEA as measured by its androgenic and/or estrogenic biological activity in well-characterized peripheral target intracrine tissues in the rat.

Journal of Endocrinology (1996) 150, S107–S118

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J. Massicotte, L. Lagacé, M. Godbout, and F. Labrie


The incubation of female rat adenohypophysial cells in primary culture with porcine granulosa cell culture medium (GCM) led to the complete inhibition of responses of LH and FSH to LH releasing hormone (LHRH) as well as to the inhibition of spontaneous release of FSH. These effects of GCM suggest the specificity of the 'inhibin'-like activity of this material. Granulosa cell culture medium completely reversed the stimulatory effect of oestradiol-17β on the responses of LH and FSH to LHRH, as well as reversing the stimulatory effect of progesterone, oestradiol or a combination of both steroids on the spontaneous release of FSH, while not affecting the spontaneous release of LH. The antioestrogenic effects of progesterone observed on the response of LH to 0·3 nm-LHRH were amplified in the presence of GCM while the stimulatory effects of progesterone, oestradiol or both on the response of FSH to 0·3 nm-LHRH were completely reversed by the medium. Moreover, the presence of GCM led to an additive inhibitory effect with dihydrotestosterone on the response of LH to LHRH while it completely reversed the stimulatory effect of the androgen on spontaneous and LHRH-induced FSH release. The present data show that the presence of porcine granulosa cell 'inhibin' activity can exert marked interactions with sex steroids in the control of gonadotrophin secretion. This 'inhibin' activity reversed all the stimulatory effects and potentiated all the inhibitory effects of sex steroids on gonadotrophin secretion. Although the physiological role of 'inhibin' remains to be defined well, the importance of this activity is clearly demonstrated in anterior pituitary cells in culture.

J. Endocr. (1984) 100, 133–140

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F Labrie, V Luu-The, A Bélanger, S-X Lin, J Simard, G Pelletier, and C Labrie

Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is not a hormone but it is a very important prohormone secreted in large amounts by the adrenals in humans and other primates, but not in lower species. It is secreted in larger quantities than cortisol and is present in the blood at concentrations only second to cholesterol. All the enzymes required to transform DHEA into androgens and/or estrogens are expressed in a cell-specific manner in a large series of peripheral target tissues, thus permitting all androgen-sensitive and estrogen-sensitive tissues to make locally and control the intracellular levels of sex steroids according to local needs. This new field of endocrinology has been called intracrinology. In women, after menopause, all estrogens and almost all androgens are made locally in peripheral tissues from DHEA which indirectly exerts effects, among others, on bone formation, adiposity, muscle, insulin and glucose metabolism, skin, libido and well-being. In men, where the secretion of androgens by the testicles continues for life, the contribution of DHEA to androgens has been best evaluated in the prostate where about 50% of androgens are made locally from DHEA. Such knowledge has led to the development of combined androgen blockade (CAB), a treatment which adds a pure anti-androgen to medical (GnRH agonist) or surgical castration in order to block the access of the androgens made locally to the androgen receptor. In fact, CAB has been the first treatment demonstrated to prolong life in advanced prostate cancer while recent data indicate that it can permit long-term control and probably cure in at least 90% of cases of localized prostate cancer. The new field of intracrinology or local formation of sex steroids from DHEA in target tissues has permitted major advances in the treatment of the two most frequent cancers, namely breast and prostate cancer, while its potential use as a physiological HRT could well provide a physiological balance of androgens and estrogens, thus offering exciting possibilities for women’s health at menopause.

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P Diamond, L Cusan, J-L Gomez, A Bélanger, and F Labrie


We have evaluated the effect of dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) replacement therapy in 60- to 70-year-old women (n=15) who received a single daily percutaneous application of a 10% DHEA cream for 12 months. While anthropometric measurements showed no change in body weight, we observed a 9·8% decrease in subcutaneous skinfold thickness at 12 months (P<0·05). This was confirmed by measurements of midthigh fat and muscle areas by computed tomography where a 3·8% decrease (P<0·05) in femoral fat and a 3·5% increase (P<0·05) in femoral muscular areas were observed at 12 months. There was no significant change in abdominal fat measurements but the waist-to-hip ratio was only 0·83 at the onset of treatment. These changes in body fat and muscular mass were associated with a 11% decrease (P<0·05) in fasting plasma glucose and a 17% decrease (P<0·05) in fasting insulin levels. Treatment with DHEA had no adverse effect on the lipid or lipoprotein profile. In fact, an overall trend towards a decrease in total cholesterol and its lipoprotein fractions was observed. Plasma triglycerides were not affected. Plasma high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol decreased by 8% but the ratio HDL/cholesterol was unchanged by DHEA treatment because of a parallel decrease in total cholesterol. The index of sebum secretion showed a 73% increase (P<0·05) during the 12 months of DHEA therapy followed by a return to pretreatment values 3 months after cessation of therapy. At the same time, sex hormone-binding globulin levels decreased (P<0·05) during treatment and returned to pretreatment values 3 months after the end of therapy. Serum gonadotropins were not changed by DHEA treatment. Although not significant, we observed a tendency towards an elevation in serum GH levels. Values of serum IGF-I remained unchanged while plasma IGF-binding protein-3 levels significantly decreased (P<0·05) during treatment and returned to pretreatment values after cessation of DHEA therapy. The present data clearly indicate the beneficial effects of DHEA therapy in postmenopausal women through its transformation into androgens and/or estrogens in specific intracrine tissues without any significant side effects.

Journal of Endocrinology (1996) 150, S43–S50

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A Tchernof, F Labrie, A Bélanger, and J-P Després


Obesity is a heterogeneous condition and not every obese patient is at increased risk of cardiovascular diseases (CVD). It is now well established that the regional distribution of body fat is a critical correlate of the metabolic complications of obesity. Studies that have assessed adipose tissue distribution by imaging techniques such as computed tomography have demonstrated the importance of the intra-abdominal (visceral) fat depot as a marker of a cluster of metabolic abnormalities which include glucose intolerance, insulin resistance, hyperinsulinemia, hypertriglyceridemia, elevated number of apo B-carrying lipoproteins as well as hypoalphalipoproteinemia. Although the association between visceral obesity and metabolic complications can hardly be questioned, it has been suggested that it may not necessarily represent a causal relationship. For instance, concomitant alterations in sex steroid levels have been found in both men and women with abdominal (visceral) obesity which have also been reported to be significantly correlated with the insulin resistant-dyslipidemic state found in abdominal obese subjects. In women, abdominal obesity is associated with increased free testosterone concentrations and reduced sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG) levels, whereas in men this condition is associated with reduced testosterone and adrenal C19 steroid (dehydroepiandrosterone, androstenedione, androstene-3β, 17β-diol) levels as well as decreased SHBG concentrations. These altered steroid and SHBG levels have been reported to be independent correlates of the metabolic complications of visceral obesity although they cannot solely account for the increased CVD risk found in these patients. In this regard, intervention studies are clearly warranted to better quantify the respective contribution of excess visceral adipose tissue and of the concomitant alterations in sex steroid levels as modulators of metabolic disturbances increasing CVD risk in obesity.

Journal of Endocrinology (1996) 150, S155–S164

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UDP-galactose: glycoprotein galactosyltransferase, CMP-sialic acid: glycoprotein sialyltransferase and UDP-galactose pyrophosphatase activities were measured in the endometrium of rat uteri during the oestrous cycle. The galactosyltransferase activity started to increase at dioestrus and reached a maximum on the afternoon of pro-oestrus. The UDP-galactose pyrophosphatase activity changed in a direction opposite to that of galactosyltransferase. The sialyltransferase activity was low during metoestrus and dioestrus, but began to rise on the morning of pro-oestrus, reaching a peak on the morning of oestrus. Previously, we have shown that oestradiol administration stimulated galactosyl- and sialyltransferase and inhibited pyrophosphatase activities several-fold in the endometrium of ovariectomized rats. Progesterone prevented the oestradiol effect on the enzymes. The changes in glycosyltransferase and pyrophosphatase activities during the oestrous cycle possibly bear a direct relationship to the ovarian hormones in the rat during the normal oestrous cycle. This relationship will then be conducive to increased synthesis of glycopolymers during ovulation. Furthermore, the lag of 18 h for a maximal rise of sialyltransferase following that of galactosyltransferase is consistent with the normal sequence of glycosylation that occurs in glycoprotein secretion.

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G Pelletier, V Luu-The, S Li, and F Labrie

Androgen receptors (AR) are highly expressed in female reproductive organs. In order to define the possible involvement of estrogens in the regulation of AR expression in the uterus and vagina, we have studied the effect of short-term administration of 17beta-estradiol (E2) to ovariectomized adult mice on AR mRNA levels. Seven days after ovariectomy, the mice received a single injection of E2 (0.05 microg/mouse) 3, 12 or 24 h before they were killed. The levels of AR mRNA were measured in the different uterine and vaginal compartments using quantitative in situ hybridization. In the uterus, AR mRNA was expressed in the luminal and glandular epithelial cells, stromal cells and smooth muscle cells. In the vagina, AR mRNA was localized in both epithelial and stromal cells. In the uterus after ovariectomy, AR mRNA levels were decreased by 18% in the epithelial cells, 23% in the stromal cells and 50% in the myometrial cells. AR mRNA levels were completely restored as early as 3 h after E2 administration in the epithelium and stroma, and at the 12-h time-interval in the myometrium. In the vaginal epithelium, ovariectomy induced a 70% decrease in AR mRNA expression. No effect could be detected 3 h after E2 administration, while at the longest time-intervals (12 and 24 h) there was an increase in mRNA levels corresponding to 70% of the levels observed in intact animals. In the vaginal stroma, ovariectomy was responsible for a 55% decrease in mRNA levels. While no significant changes were observed at the 3-h time-interval, a complete restoration of AR mRNA levels in stromal cells could be recorded at the longest time-intervals after E2 administration. The data obtained indicated that, in adult mice, estrogens exert a positive regulation of AR mRNA expression in the different compartments of both the uterus and the vagina.