Vagina Development

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Section through newborn female

The embryonic origin of the vagina has been a historically hotly debated issue with several different contributions and origins described. Current molecular studies show the whole vagina epithelium is derived from the paramesonephric (Müllerian) duct with bone morphogenic protein 4 (BMP4) reshaping the intermediate mesoderm-derived Müllerian duct into the vaginal primordium.[1] Transgenic studies in mice also identified the developmental origin of vaginal epithelium derived solely from Müllerian duct epithelium.[2] Vaginal development is also under negative control of androgens.

Paramesonephric duct = Müllerian duct and Mesonephric duct = Wolffian duct.

See also for external genitalia Integumentary System Development.


An earlier description gave the vagina arising by downward growth of the Wolffian and Mullerian ducts, with the sinovaginal bulbs located at the caudal ends of the Wolffian ducts. An earlier understanding was that the upper part of the vagina derived from Müllerian ducts and the lower part from the sinovaginal bulbs (formed by fusion form the vaginal plate) all derived from the urogenital sinus. The terms sinovaginal bulbs and vaginal plate were first coined by Koff in 1933.[3] Acién's hypothesis, related to abnormalities and the embryology of the human vagina as deriving from the Wolffian ducts and the Müllerian tubercle.

Genital Links: Introduction | Lecture - Medicine | Lecture - Science | Medicine - Practical | Primordial Germ Cell | Meiosis | Female | Ovary | Oocyte | Uterus | Vagina | Reproductive Cycles | Menstrual Cycle | Male | Testis | Spermatozoa | Penis | Prostate | Genital Movies | Abnormalities | Assisted Reproductive Technology | Puberty | Category:Genital
Historic Embryology - Genital 
1902 The Uro-Genital System | 1912 Urinogenital Organ Development | 1915 Cowper’s and Bartholin’s Glands | 1921 Urogenital Development | 1921 External Genital Development | 1927 Female Foetus 15 cm | 1932| Postnatal Ovary | 1935 Prepuce | 1935 Wolffian Duct | 1942 Sex Cords | 1943 Testes Descent | Historic Disclaimer

Some Recent Findings

Historic image
  • Normal and abnormal epithelial differentiation in the female reproductive tract[4] "In mammals, the female reproductive tract (FRT) develops from a pair of paramesonephric or Müllerian ducts (MDs), which arise from coelomic epithelial cells of mesodermal origin. During development, the MDs undergo a dynamic morphogenetic transformation from simple tubes consisting of homogeneous epithelium and surrounding mesenchyme into several distinct organs namely the oviduct, uterus, cervix and vagina."
  • Vaginal microbiome of reproductive-age women[5] "The means by which vaginal microbiomes help prevent urogenital diseases in women and maintain health are poorly understood. To gain insight into this, the vaginal bacterial communities of 396 asymptomatic North American women who represented four ethnic groups (white, black, Hispanic, and Asian) were sampled and the species composition characterized by pyrosequencing of barcoded 16S rRNA genes. The communities clustered into five groups: four were dominated by Lactobacillus iners, L. crispatus, L. gasseri, or L. jensenii, whereas the fifth had lower proportions of lactic acid bacteria and higher proportions of strictly anaerobic organisms, indicating that a potential key ecological function, the production of lactic acid, seems to be conserved in all communities. The proportions of each community group varied among the four ethnic groups, and these differences were statistically significant [χ(2)(10) = 36.8, P < 0.0001]. Moreover, the vaginal pH of women in different ethnic groups also differed and was higher in Hispanic (pH 5.0 ± 0.59) and black (pH 4.7 ± 1.04) women as compared with Asian (pH 4.4 ± 0.59) and white (pH 4.2 ± 0.3) women."
More recent papers  
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This table shows an automated computer PubMed search using the listed sub-heading term.

  • Therefore the list of references do not reflect any editorial selection of material based on content or relevance.
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Search term: Vagina Embryology

Guang-Han Wang, Lan Zhu, Ai-Ming Liu, Tao Xu, Jing-He Lang Clinical Characteristics of Patients Who Underwent Surgery for Genital Tract Malformations at Peking Union Medical College Hospital across 31 Years. Chin. Med. J.: 2016, 129(20);2441-2444 PubMed 27748336

Ying Zhang, Yisong Chen, Keqin Hua Robotic assisted reconstruction of cervix and vagina by SIS graft and fusion of hemi-uterus. J Minim Invasive Gynecol: 2016; PubMed 27702705

Luis De la Torre, Kimberly Cogley, Juan L Calisto, Karla Santos, Alejandro Ruiz, María Zornoza Vaginal agenesis and rectovestibular fistula. Experience utilizing distal ileum for the vaginal replacement in these patients, preserving the natural fecal reservoir. J. Pediatr. Surg.: 2016, 51(11);1871-1876 PubMed 27567309


Ayako Muraoka, Hiroyuki Tsuda, Tomomi Kotani, Fumitaka Kikkawa Severe Hemoperitoneum During Pregnancy with Obstructed Hemivagina and Ipsilateral Renal Anomaly Syndrome: A Case Report. J Reprod Med: 2016, 61(5-6);290-4 PubMed 27424375

Paramesonephic Duct Development

The paired paramesonephic ducts (Müllerian ducts) go through a series of developmental changes recently identified as regulated by a number of molecular factors.

Female Uterus and Vagina (between week 9 and 20)
Uterus 001 icon.jpg
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The entire vagina is formed from the paramesonephric (Müllerian) duct (red) and does not have a contribution from the urogenital endoderm (yellow).


Coelomic epithelium Lim1 expressing cells are specified to a duct fate.

  • Lim - proteins named for 'LIN11, ISL1, and MEC3,' are defined by the possession of a highly conserved double zinc finger motif called the LIM domain.
    • LIM domain-binding factors - interact with the LIM domains of nuclear proteins are capable of binding to a variety of transcription factors.


Duct invagination induced by Wnt4 to reach the mesonephric (Wolffian)


Cells at the leading tip proliferate and form the duct elongating to reach the cloaca (urogenital sinus). Mesonephric secretes WNT9b to guide duct elongation. Pax2 also acts in elongation and duct maintenance.

  • WNT9b - member of the WNT protein family that encode cysteine-rich secreted glycoproteins that act as extracellular signaling factors.
  • Pax2 - member of the paired box protein family.

Links: OMIM - WNT9b | OMIM - Pax2 | OMIM - paired box gene

Postnatal Development

A study in mouse has identified Dicer, a riboendonuclease required for microRNA biosynthesis, to be required for postnatal growth if the female reproductive tract.[6]

Adult Dimensions

A recent study using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has accurately measured the dimensions of the adult vagina.[7]

"Seventy-seven MRI scans were performed on 28 women before gel application to establish baseline vaginal measurements. Average dimensions were calculated for each woman and for the population. The influence of potential covariates (age, height, weight and parity) on these dimensions was assessed. ...Mean vaginal length from cervix to introitus was 62.7 mm. Vaginal width was largest in the proximal vagina (32.5 mm), decreased as it passed through the pelvic diaphragm (27.8 mm) and smallest at the introitus (26.2 mm)."


Magnetic resonance image (Axial T2-W) OHVIRA syndrome showing uterine didelphys, obstructed hemivagina, and ectopic ureter on MR imaging in a 17-year-old girl.

Mayer- Rokitansky-Kuster-Hauser syndrome

(MRKH) Abnormality of development of the female genital tract: partial or complete absence (agenesis) of the uterus; absent or hypoplastic vagina; normal fallopian tubes, ovaries, normal external genitalia and normal female chromosome pattern (46, XX). Has an incidence of approximately 1 in 4500 newborn girls and has been associated with a microdeletion at 17q12.[8]

OHVIRA Syndrome

Obstructed HemiVagina and Ipsilateral Renal Anomaly with uterine didelphysis is a syndrome due to lateral non-fusion of the Mullerian ducts with asymmetric obstruction. The presence of vaginal septum also gives rise to other clinical conditions.

OHVIRA Syndrome Magnetic Resonance Images

Endocrine Disruptors

Endocrine disruptors in female reproductive tract development and carcinogenesis.[9]

Additional Images



  1. Yi Cai Revisiting old vaginal topics: conversion of the Müllerian vagina and origin of the "sinus" vagina. Int. J. Dev. Biol.: 2009, 53(7);925-34 PubMed 19598112
  2. Takeshi Kurita Developmental origin of vaginal epithelium. Differentiation: 2010, 80(2-3);99-105 PubMed 20638775
  3. A K Koff Development of the vagina in the human fetus. Contrib Embryol: 1933, 24(140);59-91 PubMed 12332362
  4. Takeshi Kurita Normal and abnormal epithelial differentiation in the female reproductive tract. Differentiation: 2011, 82(3);117-26 PubMed 21612855
  5. Jacques Ravel, Pawel Gajer, Zaid Abdo, G Maria Schneider, Sara S K Koenig, Stacey L McCulle, Shara Karlebach, Reshma Gorle, Jennifer Russell, Carol O Tacket, Rebecca M Brotman, Catherine C Davis, Kevin Ault, Ligia Peralta, Larry J Forney Vaginal microbiome of reproductive-age women. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A.: 2011, 108 Suppl 1;4680-7 PubMed 20534435
  6. Gabriel Gonzalez, Richard R Behringer Dicer is required for female reproductive tract development and fertility in the mouse. Mol. Reprod. Dev.: 2009, 76(7);678-88 PubMed 19197916
  7. Kurt T Barnhart, Adriana Izquierdo, E Scott Pretorius, David M Shera, Mayadah Shabbout, Alka Shaunik Baseline dimensions of the human vagina. Hum. Reprod.: 2006, 21(6);1618-22 PubMed 16478763
  8. B Brambati, L Tului, G Simoni, M Travi Genetic diagnosis before the eighth gestational week. Obstet Gynecol: 1991, 77(2);318-21 PubMed 1988902
  9. Liang Ma Endocrine disruptors in female reproductive tract development and carcinogenesis. Trends Endocrinol. Metab.: 2009, 20(7);357-63 PubMed 19709900


Yi Cai Revisiting old vaginal topics: conversion of the Müllerian vagina and origin of the "sinus" vagina. Int. J. Dev. Biol.: 2009, 53(7);925-34 PubMed 19598112

Miranda Farage, Howard Maibach Lifetime changes in the vulva and vagina. Arch. Gynecol. Obstet.: 2006, 273(4);195-202 PubMed 16208476

Audrey M Cummings, Robert J Kavlock Function of sexual glands and mechanism of sex differentiation. J Toxicol Sci: 2004, 29(3);167-78 PubMed 15467266


Erica Deutscher, Humphrey Hung-Chang Yao Essential roles of mesenchyme-derived beta-catenin in mouse Müllerian duct morphogenesis. Dev. Biol.: 2007, 307(2);227-36 PubMed 17532316

Silvana Guioli, Ryohei Sekido, Robin Lovell-Badge The origin of the Mullerian duct in chick and mouse. Dev. Biol.: 2007, 302(2);389-98 PubMed 17070514

Akio Kobayashi, William Shawlot, Artur Kania, Richard R Behringer Requirement of Lim1 for female reproductive tract development. Development: 2004, 131(3);539-49 PubMed 14695376

Ryozo Hashimoto Development of the human Müllerian duct in the sexually undifferentiated stage. Anat Rec A Discov Mol Cell Evol Biol: 2003, 272(2);514-9 PubMed 12740945

Françoise Mornex [Combined gemcitabine and radiotherapy]. [Association gemcitabine-radiothérapie.] Bull Cancer: 2002, 89 Spec No;S127-33 PubMed 12449044

Ellen Shapiro, Hongying Huang, Xue-Ru Wu New concepts on the development of the vagina. Adv. Exp. Med. Biol.: 2004, 545;173-85 PubMed 15086027

Yi Cai Revisiting old vaginal topics: conversion of the Müllerian vagina and origin of the "sinus" vagina. Int. J. Dev. Biol.: 2009, 53(7);925-34 PubMed 19598112

Philippe Sebe, Helga Fritsch, Josef Oswald, Christian Schwentner, Andreas Lunacek, Georg Bartsch, Christian Radmayr Fetal development of the female external urinary sphincter complex: an anatomical and histological study. J. Urol.: 2005, 173(5);1738-42; discussion 1742 PubMed 15821572

U Drews Helper function of the Wolffian ducts and role of androgens in the development of the vagina. Sex Dev: 2007, 1(2);100-10 PubMed 18391520

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