Estrogen acidifies vaginal pH by up-regulation of proton secretion via the apical membrane of vaginal-ectocervical epithelial cells

George I. Gorodeski, Ulrich Hopfer, Chung Chiun Liu, Ellen Margles

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

75 Scopus citations


The objective of this study was to assess estrogen-dependent cellular mechanisms that could contribute to the acid pH of the vaginal lumen. Cultures of normal human cervical-vaginal epithelial (hECE) cells and endocervical cells were grown on filters, and acidification of the extracellular solutions on the luminal (L-pHo) and contraluminal (CL-pHo) sides was measured. The hECE cells and endocervical cells decreased CL-pHo from 7.40 to 7.25 within 20-30 min of incubation in basic salt solution. Endocervical cells also produced a similar decrease in L-pHo. In contrast, hECE cells acidified L-pHo down to pH 7.05 when grown as monoculture and down to pH 6.05 when grown in coculture with human cervical fibroblasts. This enhanced acid secretion into the luminal compartment was estrogen dependent because removal of endogenous steroid hormones attenuated the effect, whereas treatment with 17β-estradiol restored it. The 17β-estradiol effect was dose dependent (EC50 0.5 nM) and could be mimicked by diethylstilbestrol and in part by estrone and tamoxifen. Preincubation with ICI-182780, but not with progesterone, blocked the estrogen effect. Preincubation of cells with the V-ATPase blocker bafilomycin A 1, when administered to the luminal solution, attenuated the baseline and estrogen-dependent acid secretion into the luminal solution. Treatment with EGTA, to abrogate the tight junctional resistance, blocked the decrease in L-pHo and stimulated a decrease in CL-pHo, indicating that the tight junctions are necessary for maintaining luminal acidification. We conclude that vaginal-ectocervical cells acidify the luminal canal by a mechanism of active proton secretion, driven in part by V-H+-ATPaSe located in the apical plasma membrane and that the baseline active net proton secretion occurs constitutively throughout life and that this acidification is up-regulated by estrogen.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)816-824
Number of pages9
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2005


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