Bird oviduct development is controlled by sex steroid hormones. Estrogens (E) induce cell proliferation, formation of tubular glands by epithelial cell evagination and cell differentiation. Progesterone (P) strongly increases secretory processes in E-treated quails, but inhibits cell proliferation and cell evagination. The balance between E and P is very critical for the development and morphogenesis of the oviduct. After six daily injections of low doses of E (10 micrograms day-1) and high doses of P (5 mg day-1) into ovariectomized quails, cell proliferation and secretory process are stimulated but cell evagination is totally inhibited and distribution of striated collagen is perturbed. Using antibodies against type I collagen the stroma, which is mainly composed of fibroblasts, is brightly stained, as are some regions within the epithelium. Electron microscopy shows that bundles of striated collagen fibrils appear in extracellular spaces between the lateral membranes of the epithelial cells or between the basal lamina and the epithelial basal membrane. After in situ hybridization using a 35S riboprobe specific for mRNA of the alpha 2 chain of type I collagen, mRNA was detected only in the fibroblasts of the stroma and not in epithelial cells. Furthermore electron microscope studies of collagen bundles in serial sections clearly show collagen fibrils passing through the basal lamina. It is assumed that the type I collagen between epithelial cells originates from mesenchymal cells. In the oviduct of immature birds or after physiological E + P stimulation, striated collagen is localized only in the stroma and never within the epithelium. These results indicate a modulation of extracellular matrix by sex steroid hormones in the quail oviduct.

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