Thyroid function and effects on reproduction in ewes exposed to the organochlorine pesticides lindane or pentachlorophenol (PCP) from conception

J Toxicol Environ Health A. 1999 Dec 24;58(8):509-30. doi: 10.1080/009841099157124.


There is concern over the potential endocrine-modulating effects of long-term exposure to pesticides. In this study, ewe lambs were exposed to lindane and pentachlorophenol (PCP) from conception to necropsy at 67 wk. of age. The ewe lambs (and their mothers) were given untreated feed (n = 6) or feed treated with 1 mg/kg body weight/day of lindane (n = 8) or PCP (n = 13). Estrus was synchronized at 32 wk. of age, and ewe lambs were exposed to vasectomized rams. Ewe lambs were then exposed to intact rams during the following two natural estrous periods and subsequent reproductive performance was monitored. Serum was collected every 2 wk. during development, daily during the synchronized cycle and frequently (every 15-60 min) for 6-18 h either with or without stimulation with thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) during the synchronized luteal phase or TSH/thyroid-releasing hormone (TRH) at 65-66 wk of age. Ewe lambs fed a PCP-treated diet had a significantly reduced serum concentration of both T4 and free T4, and a reduction in the magnitude and duration of the T4 and free T4 response to TSH, despite normal endogenous levels of TSH and a normal TSH response to TRH. PCP exposure had a less detrimental influence on unstimulated T3 levels; however, the T3 (but not reverse T3) response to TSH was markedly reduced in PCP-treated ewe lambs. Ewe lambs given lindane also had a significantly reduced serum concentration of T4; however, despite continued exposure to lindane, T4 levels returned to normal by 10 wk. of age. Detrimental effects on reproductive function were only seen following estrous synchronization when both PCP and lindane exposure reduced the number of corpora lutea (CL) and total CL volume and increased luteinizing hormone (LH) pulse frequency. In addition, lindane-treated ewes had shorter estrous cycles and lower luteal progesterone concentrations. No marked effects of pesticides were seen on fertility following mating during natural estrous periods. In conclusion, the pesticides affected reproduction only after estrous synchronization, whereas PCP consistently disrupted thyroid function, most likely through a direct effect on the thyroid gland.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Environmental Pollutants / toxicity*
  • Female
  • Follicle Stimulating Hormone / blood
  • Hexachlorocyclohexane / toxicity*
  • Humans
  • Insecticides / toxicity*
  • Luteinizing Hormone / blood
  • Organ Size / drug effects
  • Pentachlorophenol / toxicity*
  • Pregnancy
  • Progesterone / blood
  • Reproduction / drug effects*
  • Sheep / growth & development
  • Sheep / physiology*
  • Thyroid Function Tests
  • Thyroid Gland / drug effects*
  • Thyroid Gland / pathology
  • Thyroid Gland / physiology
  • Thyrotropin / blood
  • Thyroxine / blood
  • Time Factors
  • Triiodothyronine / blood


  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Insecticides
  • Triiodothyronine
  • Progesterone
  • Hexachlorocyclohexane
  • Luteinizing Hormone
  • Follicle Stimulating Hormone
  • Thyrotropin
  • Pentachlorophenol
  • Thyroxine