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New insights into human female reproductive tract development.

  • Author(s): Robboy, Stanley J
  • Kurita, Takeshi
  • Baskin, Laurence
  • Cunha, Gerald R
  • et al.

We present a detailed review of the embryonic and fetal development of the human female reproductive tract utilizing specimens from the 5th through the 22nd gestational week. Hematoxylin and eosin (H&E) as well as immunohistochemical stains were used to study the development of the human uterine tube, endometrium, myometrium, uterine cervix and vagina. Our study revisits and updates the classical reports of Koff (1933) and Bulmer (1957) and presents new data on development of human vaginal epithelium. Koff proposed that the upper 4/5ths of the vagina is derived from Müllerian epithelium and the lower 1/5th derived from urogenital sinus epithelium, while Bulmer proposed that vaginal epithelium derives solely from urogenital sinus epithelium. These conclusions were based entirely upon H&E stained sections. A central player in human vaginal epithelial development is the solid vaginal plate, which arises from the uterovaginal canal (fused Müllerian ducts) cranially and squamous epithelium of urogenital sinus caudally. Since Müllerian and urogenital sinus epithelium cannot be unequivocally identified in H&E stained sections, we used immunostaining for PAX2 (reactive with Müllerian epithelium) and FOXA1 (reactive with urogenital sinus epithelium). By this technique, the PAX2/FOXA1 boundary was located at the extreme caudal aspect of the vaginal plate at 12 weeks. During the ensuing weeks, the PAX2/FOXA1 boundary progressively extended cranially such that by 21 weeks the entire vaginal epithelium was FOXA1-reactive and PAX2-negative. This observation supports Bulmer's proposal that human vaginal epithelium derives solely from urogenital sinus epithelium. Clearly, the development of the human vagina is far more complex than previously envisioned and appears to be distinctly different in many respects from mouse vaginal development.

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