Hypothalamic differentiation in the female rat during the neonatal period is critically dependent on the steroid milieu, as permanent changes in reproductive function are observed after administration of oestradiol and testosterone during such a critical stage. Selective oestrogen modulators (SERMs) constitute a family of drugs that, depending on the tissue, are able to exert oestrogenic or antioestrogenic actions. The present experiments were conducted to analyse whether the SERMs, tamoxifen and raloxifene, can cause oestrogenic actions during the hypothalamic differentiation period. Postnatal female rats were injected between days 1 and 5 with 100 microg/day tamoxifen, raloxifene or ICI 182,780 (a pure antioestrogen). Other groups of animals were injected on day 1 of age with 100 microg oestradiol benzoate (OeB) or 1.25 mg testosterone propionate (TP) alone or in combination with raloxifene (500 microg/day between days 1 and 5). In all experimental groups, the age, body weight and concentrations of serum gonadotrophins at vaginal opening were recorded, whereas vaginal cyclicity and the negative and positive feedback between oestradiol and LH were monitored in adulthood. The results obtained confirmed the ability of high doses of OeB or TP to alter the normal differentiation of the brain permanently. They also reinforced the hypothesis that oestrogens are also necessary for normal brain differentiation in female rats because administration of a pure antioestrogen, such as ICI 182,780 permanently altered the function of the reproductive axis. In addition, our data provided evidence for different actions of the two SERMs under analysis (raloxifene and tamoxifen) upon peripheral targets, as raloxifene advanced vaginal opening whereas tamoxifen did not. In contrast, their actions on brain differentiation appeared similar and analogous to those obtained after neonatal administration of oestradiol, as evidenced by vaginal acyclicity, ovarian atrophy, sterility and abolition of negative and positive feedback between oestradiol and LH, thus suggesting an oestrogenic action of these SERMs on hypothalamic differentiation. Moreover, the oestrogenic activity of raloxifene was supported by its inability to block the effects of OeB and TP administered neonatally. In conclusion, the present results indicated that the SERMs, tamoxifen and raloxifene, exert an oestrogen-like effect upon hypothalamic differentiation of the neonatal female rat.
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