Estrogen reprogramming of the prostate gland as a function of developmental exposures (aka developmental estrogenization) results in permanent alterations in structure and gene expression that lead to an increased incidence of prostatic lesions with aging. Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) with estrogenic activity have been similarly linked to an increased prostate cancer risk. Since it has been suggested that stem cells and cancer stem cells are potential targets of cancer initiation and disease management, it is highly possible that estrogens and EDCs influence the development and progression of prostate cancer through reprogramming and transforming the prostate stem and early stage progenitor cells. In this article, we review recent literature highlighting the effects of estrogens and EDCs on prostate cancer risk and discuss recent advances in prostate stem/progenitor cell research. Our laboratory has recently developed a novel prostasphere model using normal human prostate stem/progenitor cells and established that these cells express estrogen receptors (ERs) and are direct targets of estrogen action. Further, using a chimeric in vivo prostate model derived from these normal human prostate progenitor cells, we demonstrated for the first time that estrogens initiate and promote prostatic carcinogenesis in an androgen-supported environment. We herein discuss these findings and highlight new evidence using our in vitro human prostasphere assay for perturbations in human prostate stem cell self-renewal and differentiation by natural steroids as well as EDCs. These findings support the hypothesis that tissue stem cells may be direct EDC targets which may underlie life-long reprogramming as a consequence of developmental and/or transient adult exposures.
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