Women exposed to diethylstilbestrol (DES) in utero develop abnormalities, including cervicovaginal adenosis that can lead to cancer. We report that transient disruption of developmental signals by DES permanently changes expression of p63, thereby altering the developmental fate of Müllerian duct epithelium. The cell fate of Müllerian epithelium to be columnar (uterine) or squamous (cervicovaginal) is determined by mesenchymal induction during the perinatal period. Cervicovaginal mesenchyme induced p63 in Müllerian duct epithelium and subsequent squamous differentiation. In p63(-/-) mice, cervicovaginal epithelium differentiated into uterine epithelium. Thus, p63 is an identity switch for Müllerian duct epithelium to be cervicovaginal versus uterine. P63 was also essential for uterine squamous metaplasia induced by DES-exposure. DES-exposure from postnatal day 1 to 5 inhibited induction of p63 in cervicovaginal epithelium via epithelial ERalpha. The inhibitory effect of DES was transient, and most cervicovaginal epithelial cells recovered expression of p63 by 2 days after discontinuation of DES-treatment. However, some cervicovaginal epithelial cells failed to express p63, remained columnar and persisted into adulthood as adenosis.
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