Brief exposure to estrogens during the neonatal period interrupts rat prostatic development by reducing branching morphogenesis and by blocking epithelial cells from entering a normal differentiation pathway. Upon aging, ventral prostates exhibit extensive hyperplasia and dysplasia suggesting that neonatal estrogens may predispose the prostate gland to preneoplastic lesions. To determine whether these prostatic lesions may be manifested through aberrant cell-to-cell communications, the present study examined specific gap junction proteins, Connexins (Cx) 32, and Cx 43, and the cell adhesion molecule, E-cadherin, in the developing, adult and aged rat prostate gland. Male rat pups were given 25 μg estradiol benzoate or oil on days 1, 3, and 5 of life. Prostates were removed on days 1, 4, 5, 6, 10, 15, 30, or 90 or at 16 months, and frozen sections were immunostained for E-cadherin, Cx 43, and Cx 32. Colocalization studies were performed with immunofluorescence using specific antibodies for cell markers. Gap junctions in undifferentiated epithelial cells at days 1-10 of life were composed of Cx 43, which always colocalized with basal cell cytokeratins (CK 5/15). Cx 32 expression was first observed between days 10-15 and colocalized to differentiated luminal cells (CK 8/18). Cx 43 and Cx 32 never colocalized to the same cell indicating that gap junction intercellular communication differs between basal and luminal prostatic cells. While epithelial connexin expression was not initially altered in the developing prostates following estrogen exposure, adult prostates of neonatally estrogenized rats exhibited a marked decrease in Cx 32 staining and an increased proportion of Cx 43 expressing cells. In the developing prostate, E-cadherin was localized to lateral surfaces of undifferentiated epithelial cells and staining intensity increased as the cells differentiated into luminal cells. By day 30, estrogenized prostates had small foci of epithelial cells that did not immunostain for E-cadherins. In the adult and aged prostates of estrogenized rats, larger foci with differentiation defects and dysplasia were associated with a decrease or loss in E-cadherin staining. The present findings suggest that estrogen-induced changes in the expression of E-cadherin, Cx32 and Cx43 may result in impaired cell-cell adhesion and defective cell-cell communication and may be one of the key mechanisms through which changes toward a dysplastic state are mediated. These findings are significant in light of the data on human prostate cancers where carcinogenesis and progression are associated with loss of E-cadherin and a switch from Cx32 to Cx43 expression in the epithelium.
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