Objective: This study aims to evaluate the effects of intravaginal dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA, prasterone) on the endometrium in postmenopausal women.
Methods: Intravaginal DHEA (6.5 mg) was administered daily for 52 weeks to 422 women who had endometrial biopsy at baseline and end of study, whereas 15 women were similarly treated for 26 to 52 weeks. Participants in three other studies received 3.25 mg (n = 126), 6.5 mg (n = 129), or 13 mg (n = 30) of DHEA for 12 weeks; women similarly had baseline and end-of-study biopsies. Endometrial biopsy samples were available for 668 women at baseline and end of study, with sufficient material for analysis.
Results: Endometrial atrophy or inactive endometrium (668 women) was found in all women treated with intravaginal DHEA. Similar atrophy was observed in 119 of 121 participants with sufficient material for analysis who received placebo.
Conclusions: After cessation of estradiol secretion by the ovaries at menopause, the estrogens made by mechanisms of intracrinology are inactivated intracellularly at their site of formation and action, thus maintaining serum estradiol at biologically inactive concentrations to avoid stimulation of the endometrium. The absence of enzymes that are able to transform DHEA into estrogens in the endometrium explains the typical endometrial atrophy in all normal postmenopausal women in the presence of variable concentrations of circulating endogenous DHEA. According to these mechanisms, the inactive sex steroid precursor DHEA administered intravaginally acts exclusively in the vagina, whereas all serum sex steroids remain well within the biologically inactive postmenopausal reference range, thus avoiding any stimulation of the already atrophic endometrium.