Reproductive malformation of the male offspring following maternal exposure to estrogenic chemicals

Proc Soc Exp Biol Med. 2000 Jun;224(2):61-8. doi: 10.1046/j.1525-1373.2000.22402.x.


Recently, significant concerns have been placed on the widespread use of chemicals with persistent estrogenic activity for their long-term effects on human health. In this communication, we investigated whether fetal exposure to some of these chemicals at doses consumed by people, has any long-term effect on the reproductive functions of the male offspring. Thus, time-pregnant CD-1 mice were fed diethylstilbestrol (DES), bisphenol A (BPA), and aroclor (aroclor 1016) at an average concentration of 100 ng/kg/day, 50 microg/kg/day, and 50 microg/kg/day, respectively, during Days 16-18 of gestation. A high dose of DES (200 microg/kg/day) was also tested to compare the results of the current study with those of others using the high dose only. The offspring were examined at Day 3, Day 21, and Day 60 following birth. We demonstrated that BPA, aroclor, and the lower dose of DES enhanced anogenital distance, increased prostate size, and decreased epididymal weight. No effect was found on the testicular weight or size. The chemicals also permanently increased androgen receptor (AR) binding activity of the prostate at this dosage. This is the first demonstration that environmental chemicals program AR function permanently at the dosage consumed by the general population. The higher dosage of DES, on the other hand, produced an opposite effect, decreasing prostate weight, prostate AR binding, and anogenital distance, thus confirming the previous reports. To investigate whether the above mentioned effects of the chemicals represent direct or indirect effects, we also tested the effect of the chemicals on prostate development in vitro. Thus fetal urogenital sinus (UGS), isolated at the 17th day of gestation was cultured with the chemicals in the presence and absence of testosterone (10 ng/ml) for 6 days, and prostate growth was monitored by determining the size and branching of the specimen following histology. Results showed that these chemicals induced prostate growth in the presence and absence of testosterone. They also increased androgen-binding activity. Thus, the results of the in vivo studies were reproduced in the in vitro experiments, suggesting a direct effect of these chemicals on the development of fetal reproductive organs. This is the first demonstration that estrogenic chemicals induce reproductive malformation by direct interference with the fetal reproductive organs and not by interfering with the maternal or fetal endocrine system. The chemicals are able to induce malformation even in the absence of fetal testosterone; however, they are more effective in the presence of testosterone.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants, Occupational / adverse effects*
  • Androgens / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Aroclors / adverse effects*
  • Benzhydryl Compounds
  • Diethylstilbestrol / adverse effects*
  • Environmental Pollutants / adverse effects*
  • Estrogens, Non-Steroidal / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Genitalia, Male / drug effects
  • Male
  • Maternal Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Mice
  • Organ Culture Techniques
  • Phenols / adverse effects*
  • Prostate / drug effects*
  • Prostate / growth & development
  • Prostate / metabolism
  • Prostate / physiology
  • Receptors, Androgen / drug effects
  • Receptors, Androgen / metabolism
  • Reproduction / drug effects


  • Air Pollutants, Occupational
  • Androgens
  • Aroclors
  • Benzhydryl Compounds
  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Estrogens, Non-Steroidal
  • Phenols
  • Receptors, Androgen
  • Aroclor 1016
  • Diethylstilbestrol
  • bisphenol A