Mechanism of Action
Endogenous estrogens are largely responsible for the development and maintenance of the female reproductive system and secondary sexual characteristics. Although circulating estrogens exist in a dynamic equilibrium of metabolic interconversions, estradiol is the principal intracellular human estrogen and is substantially more potent than its metabolites, estrone and estriol, at the receptor level.
The primary source of estrogen in normally cycling adult women is the ovarian follicle, which secretes 70 to 500 μg of estradiol daily, depending on the phase of the menstrual cycle. After menopause, most endogenous estrogen is produced by conversion of androstenedione, which is secreted by the adrenal cortex, to estrone in the peripheral tissues. Thus, estrone and the sulfate- conjugated form, estrone sulfate, are the most abundant circulating estrogens in postmenopausal women.
Estrogens act through binding to nuclear receptors in estrogen-responsive tissues. To date, two estrogen receptors have been identified. These vary in proportion from tissue to tissue. Circulating estrogens modulate the pituitary secretion of the gonadotropins, luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), through a negative feedback mechanism. Estrogens act to reduce the elevated levels of these gonadotropins seen in postmenopausal women.
Conjugated estrogens used in therapy are soluble in water and are well absorbed through the skin, mucous membranes, and gastrointestinal tract after release from the drug formulation.
Effects on vasomotor symptoms associated with estrogen deficiency
Hot flushes, feelings of intense heat over the upper trunk and face, with flushing of the skin and sweating occur in approximately 80% of women as a result of the decrease in ovarian hormones. These vasomotor symptoms are seen in women whether menopause is surgically induced or spontaneous. However, hot flushes may be more severe in women who undergo surgical menopause. Hot flushes can begin before the cessation of menses.
Effects on Osteoporosis associated with estrogen deficiency
For several years following natural or induced menopause, the rate of bone mass decline is accelerated. Conjugated estrogens reduce bone resorption and retard postmenopausal bone loss. Case-control studies have shown a reduction of up to 60% in hip and wrist fractures in women whose estrogen replacement was begun within a few years of menopause. Studies also suggest that estrogen reduces the rate of vertebral fractures. One clinical study demonstrated that even when estrogen was started as late as fifteen years after menopause, further loss of bone mass was prevented, but was not restored to premenopausal levels. The effect on bone mass conservation is sustained only as long as conjugated estrogens therapy is continued.
Effects on female hypogonadism
In clinical studies of delayed puberty due to female hypogonadism, breast development was induced by doses as low as 0.15 mg. The dosage may be gradually titrated upward at 6 to 12- month intervals as needed to achieve appropriate bone age advancement and eventual epiphyseal closure. Available data suggest that chronic dosing with 0.625 mg is sufficient to induce artificial cyclic menses with sequential progestin treatment and to maintain bone mineral density after skeletal maturity is achieved.
Effects on the Endometrium
The use of unopposed estrogen therapy has been associated with an increased risk of endometrial hyperplasia, a possible precursor of endometrial adenocarcinoma. The results of clinical studies indicate that the addition of a progestin to an estrogen replacement regimen for more than 10 days per cycle reduces the incidence of endometrial hyperplasia and the attendant risk of adenocarcinoma in women with intact uteri. The addition of a progestin into an estrogen replacement regimen has not been shown to interfere with the efficacy of estrogen replacement therapy for its approved indications.
Effect on bleeding patterns
With a continuous therapy, several bleeding patterns may occur. These may range from absence of bleeding to irregular bleeding. If bleeding occurs, it is frequently light spotting or moderate bleeding.
Conjugated estrogens are soluble in water and are well absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract after release from the drug formulation. The PREMARIN tablet releases conjugated estrogens slowly over several hours. Table 2-1 and 2-2 summarize the mean pharmacokinetic parameters for unconjugated and conjugated estrogens following administration of 1 x 0.625 mg and 1 x 1.25 mg tablets to healthy postmenopausal women.
The pharmacokinetics of PREMARIN 1.25 mg tablets was assessed following a single dose with a high-fat breakfast and with fasting administration. These data demonstrate that the absorption of estrogens from the 1.25 mg tablets is not affected by food and that it may be taken without regard to meals.
PK Parameter Arithmetic
Baseline-adjusted total estrone
PK Parameter Arithmetic Mean
Baseline-adjusted total estrone
The distribution of exogenous estrogens is similar to that of endogenous estrogens. Estrogens are widely distributed in the body and are generally found in higher concentration in the sex hormone target organs. Estrogens circulate in the blood largely bound to sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG) and albumin.
Metabolic conversion of estrogens occurs primarily in the liver (first pass effect), but also at local target tissue sites. Complex metabolic processes result in a dynamic equilibrium of circulating conjugated and unconjugated estrogenic forms which are continually interconverted, especially between estrone and estradiol and between esterified and non-esterified forms.
When given orally, naturally-occurring estrogens and their esters are extensively metabolized (first pass effect) and circulate primarily as estrone sulfate, with smaller amounts of other conjugated and unconjugated estrogenic species. This results in limited oral potency. By contrast, synthetic estrogens, such as ethinyl estradiol and the nonsteroidal estrogens, are degraded very slowly in the liver and other tissues, which results in their high intrinsic potency.
Exogenous estrogens are metabolized in the same manner as endogenous estrogens. Circulating estrogens exist in a dynamic equilibrium of metabolic interconversions. These transformations take place mainly in the liver. Estradiol is converted reversibly to estrone, and both can be converted to estriol, which is a major urinary metabolite. Estrogens also undergo enterohepatic recirculation via sulfate and glucuronide conjugation in the liver, biliary secretion of conjugates into the intestine, and hydrolysis in the intestine followed by reabsorption. In postmenopausal women a significant proportion of the circulating estrogens exist as sulfate conjugates, especially estrone sulfate, which serves as a circulating reservoir for the formation of more active estrogens.
During this enterohepatic recirculation, estrogens are desulfated and resulfated and undergo degradation through conversion to less active estrogens (estriol and other estrogens), oxidation to nonestrogenic substances (catecholestrogens, which interact with catecholamine metabolism, especially in the central nervous system), and conjugation with glucuronic acids (which are then rapidly excreted in the urine).
Estradiol, estrone, and estriol are excreted in the urine, along with glucuronide and sulfate conjugates.
Special Populations and Conditions
No pharmacokinetic studies were conducted in special populations, including patients with renal or hepatic impairment.