Although androgens and estrogens both play significant roles in the prostate, it is their combined action--and specifically their balance--that is critically important in maintaining prostate health and tissue homeostasis in adulthood. In men, serum testosterone levels drop by about 35% between the ages of 21 and 85 while estradiol levels remain constant or increase. This changing androgen:estrogen (T:E) ratio has been implicated in the development of benign and malignant prostate disease. The production of estrogens from androgens is mediated by the aromatase enzyme, the aberrant expression of which plays a critical role in the development of malignancy in a number of tissues. The normal prostate expresses aromatase within the stroma, while there is an induction of epithelial expression in malignancy with altered promoter utilisation. This may ultimately lead to an altered T:E ratio that is associated with the development of disease. The role of estrogen and the T:E balance in the prostate is further complicated by the differential actions of both estrogen receptors, alpha and beta. Stimulation of ERalpha leads to aberrant proliferation, inflammation and pre-malignant pathology; whereas activation of ERbeta appears to have beneficial effects regarding cellular proliferation and a putative protective role against carcinogenesis. Overall, these data reveal that homeostasis in the normal prostate involves a finely tuned balance between androgens and estrogens. This has identified estrogen, in addition to androgens, as integral to maintaining normal prostate health, but also as an important mediator of prostate disease.
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