Introduction: This study presents a unifying concept of the pathophysiology of endometriosis and adenomyosis. In particular, a physiological model is proposed that provides a comprehensive explanation of the local production of estrogen at the level of ectopic endometrial lesions and the endometrium of women affected with the disease.
Methods: In women suffering from endometriosis and adenomyosis and in normal controls, a critical analysis of uterine morphology and function was performed using immunohistochemistry, MRI, hysterosalpingoscintigraphy, videohysterosonography, molecular biology as well as clinical aspects. The relevant molecular biologic aspects were compared to those of tissue injury and repair (TIAR) mechanisms reported in literature.
Results and conclusions: Circumstantial evidence suggests that endometriosis and adenomyosis are caused by trauma. In the spontaneously developing disease, chronic uterine peristaltic activity or phases of hyperperistalsis induce, at the endometrial-myometrial interface near the fundo-cornual raphe, microtraumatizations with the activation of the mechanism of 'tissue injury and repair' (TIAR). This results in the local production of estrogen. With ongoing peristaltic activity, such sites might increase and the increasingly produced estrogens interfere in a paracrine fashion with the ovarian control over uterine peristaltic activity, resulting in permanent hyperperistalsis and a self-perpetuation of the disease process. Overt auto-traumatization of the uterus with dislocation of fragments of basal endometrium into the peritoneal cavity and infiltration of basal endometrium into the depth of the myometrial wall ensues. In most cases of endometriosis/adenomyosis, a causal event early in the reproductive period of life must be postulated leading rapidly to uterine hyperperistalsis. In late premenopausal adenomyosis, such an event might not have occurred. However, as indicated by the high prevalence of the disease, it appears to be unavoidable that, with time, chronic normoperistalsis throughout the reproductive period of life leads to the same extent of microtraumatization. With the activation of the TIAR mechanism followed by infiltrative growth and chronic inflammation, endometriosis/adenomyosis of the younger woman and premenopausal adenomyosis share in principle the same pathophysiology. In conclusion, endometriosis and adenomyosis result from the physiological mechanism of 'tissue injury and repair' (TIAR) involving local estrogen production in an estrogen-sensitive environment normally controlled by the ovary.