We have used a previously described rodent model to examine the influence of hormonal environment on susceptibility and immune responses to genital
Chlamydiainfection. Ovariectomized rats were administered estradiol, progesterone, or a combination of both, infected with Chlamydia trachomatisvia the intrauterine route, and sacrificed 5 days later. Histopathological examination showed severe inflammation in the uteri and vaginae of progesterone-treated animals, whereas animals receiving estradiol or a combination of both hormones showed no inflammation. Large numbers of chlamydiae were found in vaginal secretions of progesterone-treated and combination-treated animals, while estradiol-treated animals had none. Tissue localization showed that numerous chlamydial inclusions were present in the uterine epithelium of the progesterone group and the cervicovaginal epithelium of the combination group. Examination of the acute immune responses of the infected animals showed that maximum activation was present in the draining lymph node cells from the progesterone-treated group, and these cells were producing large amounts of interleukin-10 and gamma interferon compared to other hormone-treated groups. In contrast, spleen cell proliferation was suppressed in progesterone-treated animals compared to other hormone-treated groups. We conclude that progesterone increases and estradiol decreases susceptibility to intrauterine chlamydial infection in this rat model. Our data demonstrate that hormone environment, at the time of infection, has a profound effect on the outcome of microbial infection in the female reproductive tract.