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Canalization of the Vestibular Plate in the Absence of Urethral Fusion Characterizes Development of the Human Clitoris: The Single Zipper Hypothesis.



We characterized the early gestation development of the female external genitalia using optical projection tomography to visualize anatomical structures at high resolution.

Materials and methods

First and early second trimester human female fetal external genitalia were collected with consent after voluntary termination. Specimens labeled with anti-E-Cadherin antibody underwent analysis with optical projection tomography. Histological sections were immunostained for androgen receptor, 5α-reductase, Ki67 for proliferation and Caspase 3 for apoptosis.


Three-dimensional reconstructions demonstrated proximal to distal canalization of the epithelial vestibular plate and formation of a vestibular groove, which remained open. Ki67 was observed throughout with greatest density in the dorsal vestibular plate at the level of the opening groove. Staining for Caspase 3 was minimal in all sections. Androgen receptor staining was seen throughout the mesenchyme and in the apical epithelium of the dorsal vestibular groove. Throughout the epithelium and epidermis 5α-reductase staining was observed.


Early development of the external genitalia in the female is analogous to that in the male, demonstrating a similar opening zipper driving canalization of the vestibular plate with localized epithelial proliferation in the absence of significant apoptosis. Thus we hypothesize that the mechanism underlying the opening zipper must be androgen independent and the absence of androgen driven urethral fusion characterizes the normal development of the human clitoris.

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