Differential permeability of uterine and liver vascular beds to estrogens and estrogen conjugates

J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1984 Dec;59(6):1128-32. doi: 10.1210/jcem-59-6-1128.


The role of capillary membrane permeability and the effect of plasma protein binding on the influx of unconjugated and conjugated estrogens into a target organ, the uterus, and a metabolic organ, the liver, were studied in anesthetized rats. In the absence of plasma proteins, estrone (E1) and estradiol (E2) were freely diffusible through the uterine capillaries, but influx was significantly reduced for estriol (E3) and estetrol. In the uterus, the influx of the conjugated estrogens was markedly restricted and approximated the influx of dextran, a vascular space marker. The polarity of the compound (based on the number of hydrogen bond-forming functional groups and the presence of charged groups) appeared to predict uterine endothelial membrane permeability better than the octanol/Ringer's partition coefficient. In contrast to the selective permeability properties of the uterine endothelial barrier, the limiting membrane lining the hepatic microcirculation, the hepatocyte cell membrane, was highly permeable to all unconjugated and conjugated estrogens. The addition of 4% albumin to the injection solution led to a significant inhibition of uterine influx of E2, but not E1 or E3. In the liver, only the influx of E1 sulfate was slightly diminished by 4% albumin. In all cases, the influx of estrogens greatly exceeded the rate that would be expected if only the fraction that was free (dialyzable) in vitro was diffusible in vivo. Human sera containing sex hormone-binding globulin and albumin caused inhibition of influx of E1 and E2 through the uterine capillary barriers, whereas in the liver, the influx of E2 sulfate, and E3 glucuronide were diminished. The results are compatible with a difference in permeability of the microvasculature of the two organs and a differential availability of protein-bound estrogen for influx into liver and uterus. With the exception of E1, which is nearly completely diffusible into both organs, the influx of estrogens and estrogen conjugates into liver is greatly amplified compared to that into a peripheral organ such as the uterus.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Availability
  • Blood Proteins / metabolism
  • Estrogens / metabolism*
  • Estrogens, Conjugated (USP) / metabolism
  • Female
  • Liver / blood supply
  • Liver / metabolism*
  • Permeability
  • Protein Binding
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred Strains
  • Serum Albumin / metabolism
  • Sex Hormone-Binding Globulin / metabolism
  • Uterus / blood supply
  • Uterus / metabolism*


  • Blood Proteins
  • Estrogens
  • Estrogens, Conjugated (USP)
  • Serum Albumin
  • Sex Hormone-Binding Globulin