Researchers from the State University of Campinas, Brazil, report that the foundation for prostatic disease might be laid as early as during fetal development through exposure to altered levels of testosterone.
Scientists first proposed that prostate diseases, like benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) and cancer, have an early origin back in 1995. While researchers suspected an imbalance in sex hormones as a contributing factor, the mechanisms behind a prostatic disease’s early origins are not clear.
The research team, led by Manoel F Biancardi, used male gerbils to investigate the effect of increased levels of testosterone on the prostate. Gerbils are often used in prostatic research since they, in contrast to rats and mice, can develop lesions in the prostate as they age.
The animals were exposed to the hormone either during fetal development or puberty, or both. The testosterone-treated animals were then compared to control animals using a range of techniques when they were older.
The study, “Prenatal and pubertal testosterone exposure imprint permanent modifications in the prostate that predispose to the development of lesions in old Mongolian gerbils,“ was published in the Asian Journal of Andrology.
In examining the prostates, the researchers noticed that testosterone-treated animals had lesions and increased numbers of testosterone receptors. The lesions were most severe in gerbils exposed to the hormone both during prenatal development and puberty, with the presence of adenomatous hyperplasia. Recent studies show that these lesions might be an early stage of prostate cancer.
The animals with the highest testosterone exposure also had increased levels of dividing cells in their prostates compared to the other groups. Moreover, the researchers observed an abnormal distribution of smooth muscle in the prostates of treated animals, a difference in the shape of cell nuclei, and signs of inflammation around the lesions.
The study showed that increased levels of testosterone both during prostate development and puberty are likely necessary for the proliferation of prostate cells, and supported the idea of an early origin of prostatic disease. The authors said that more research is needed to better understand the impact of testosterone during critical periods in development.