The four stages of the estrous cycle in Monodelphis domestica, namely proestrus, estrus, postestrus and the transitional metestrus, were analyzed with the scanning electron microscope and compared with the results of the previously published transmission electron-microscopic paper [Cells Tissues Organs 2002;172:276–296]. During the estrous cycle the vaginal epithelium undergoes dramatic changes from a nonkeratinized to a highly keratinized epithelium. The predominant feature of proestrus with the beginning of keratinization is the presence of polygonal flat cells with pavement-like appearance, bordered by raised ridges and covered with microvilli. The epithelium is fully keratinized in estrus, and the superficial layers overlap like shingles. Many cells are still densely covered by microvilli, whereas others develop a complex pattern of microridges. In postestrus different epithelial structures are revealed depending on the actual stage of desquamation. In early postestrus surface cells resemble those present during estrus. In late postestrus, when only few keratinized cells are left, the nonkeratinized cells become exposed to the lumen through desquamation. These cells border the lumen during metestrus, a cycle stage during which numerous leukocytes migrate into the vaginal canal. A number of these uppermost cells is probably not yet prepared to function as metestrus cells and are therefore sloughed off as well. During metestrus compact cell masses stick in the vaginal furrows. Epithelial surface cells are highly irregular and bulging with their microvilli covered surfaces in the vaginal lumen. This study represents the first comprehensive description of alterations on the surface ultrastructure of a marsupial vagina during the estrous cycle, demonstrating considerable differences in comparison to many eutherians.

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