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J Urol. 2000 Nov;164(5):1786-92.

Urethral development in the fetal rabbit and induction of hypospadias: a model for human development.

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Departments of Urology and Anatomy, University of California San Francisco, San Francisco, California, USA.



To determine whether the development of the rabbit phallus would be an appropriate model of human phallic development, we evaluated the formation of the fetal rabbit phallus and attempted to induce hypospadias pharmacologically.


New Zealand rabbit fetuses were obtained on gestational days 20 to 24, 26, 28 and 31. Sex was determined by gonadal morphology, and 6 fetuses were obtained at each age. The perineum was dissected, fixed, sectioned and stained with hematoxylin and eosin, and monoclonal antibodies against neuronal specific enolase. Two pregnant rabbits were treated with 10 mg./kg. finasteride orally daily between gestational days 19 and 28. The development of the external genitalia was compared in treated and untreated control rabbits.


The rabbit phallus contains 2 corpora cavernosa and dorsolateral nerves similar to the human. In male and female fetuses fusion of the urethral folds progressed in a proximal to distal sequence forming a seam at the point of ventromedial fusion. In male fetuses urethral fold and ventral preputial fusion continued more distally toward the glans compared to females. Thus, in mature males the urethral meatus and ventral prepuce extended to the tip of the phallus, whereas in females the urethral meatus opened on the proximal phallus and the prepuce was deficient ventrally forming a dorsal hood. Male offspring had a significantly larger anogenital distance postnatally than female offspring. In male fetuses exposed to finasteride urethral fusion did not extend distally and the prepuce was deficient ventrally. Also, male offspring exposed to finasteride in utero had a significantly shorter anogenital distance than females and untreated control males at all ages (p <0.05).


Fetal development of the rabbit phallus and urethra is homologous to the human. Although the gestational period is significantly shorter, the temporospatial pattern of external genitalia development is analogous in these species. Feminization of the rabbit urethra, hypospadias, can be induced by inhibiting 5alpha-reductase. Use of this animal model will allow further study of molecular mechanisms involved in urethral fusion and the evaluation of the pathophysiological processes of hypospadias.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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