The reproductive transition of women through peri- to postmenopause is characterized by changes in steroid hormone levels due to the cessation of the ovarian function. Beside several complaints associated with these hormonal changes, the deterioration of the trabecular bone micro-architecture and the loss of skeletal mass can cause osteoporosis. At this life stage, women often have a reproductive history of one to several pregnancies. The ovariectomized skeletally mature rat (>10 months old) is one of the most commonly used animal models for postmenopausal osteoporosis research. Despite the fact that mammals can undergo up to several reproductive cycles (primi-/pluriparous), nulliparous animals are often used and the question whether changes in the hormonal milieu subsequently affect the skeleton and influence the outcome of intervention studies is often neglected in study designs. Therefore, the aim of the present study was to compare the estrogen responsiveness of nulliparous and pluriparous rats. For this purpose, one year old virgin or retired breeder Lewis rats were either sham operated or ovariectomized, whereas half of the ovariectomized animals received subcutaneous 17β-estradiol pellets eight weeks after surgery. After another four weeks, the effects on the uterus were determined by expression analysis of estrogen-dependently regulated steroid receptor genes and well-established marker genes. Moreover, trabecular bone parameters in the tibia were analyzed by micro-computed tomography (μCT). Parity-dependency in estrogen responsiveness was observed with respect to the achieved serum E2 levels in response to similar E2 treatment. This led to differences both on the uterus wet weight and on the expression level of uterine target genes. In addition, a reversal of the ovariectomy-induced changes of the bone architecture after 17β-estradiol substitution was only observed among the nulliparous. In conclusion, the observations of this study support parity-dependent differences in the responses to estrogenic compounds in the uterus and the bone of rats. These results indicate that the parity-status has an impact on the outcome of studies aiming at the investigation of estrogenic effects of compounds potentially used in hormone replacement and thus, this should be taken into consideration for further studies and particularly for the discussion of data obtained with the preclinical ovariectomized rat animal model.
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