Terminology of gonadal anomalies in fish and amphibians resulting from chemical exposures

Rev Environ Contam Toxicol. 2006:187:103-31.


Given the recent increase in the number of studies describing the ability of chemicals to exert endocrine-disrupting effects, not only in fish but in a variety of other oviparous groups such as amphibians and reptiles, there is an urgent need to harmonize the terminology currently used in describing pathological changes of the gonads. In addition to difficulties in comparing results from different studies, there is also the risk of miscommunication by using terms that imply a certain clinical relevance which may not be true for the species examined. Especially in the case of the recent and controversial issue about potential effects of the triazine herbicide atrazine on amphibians, clinical terminology has been utilized beyond its true meaning by using terms such as "chemical castration" to describe occurrence of TOs or ovarian tissue in the testis of male frogs exposed to environmental chemicals (Hayes 2004). In clinical terminology, castration is defined as the removal of the gonads or their destruction by an external influence, resulting in a nonfertile organism. However, Hayes (2004) did not investigate any possible effects on the fertility of the test animals and thus did not know if these animals were truly castrated. Similarly, terms such as intersex, hermaphrodite, and sex reversal have been used in ways that appear inappropriate with regard to their clinical meaning in a series of different studies with fish or frogs (see previous sections for a detailed discussion). To ensure the appropriate use of certain terminology in a field as controversial and complex as the study of endocrine disruption, we have attempted, in this chapter, to harmonize the terminology used to describe changes in gonadal development of vertebrates such as fish and amphibians, especially frogs (see Table 3). Where appropriate, the terminology suggested was adopted directly from the clinical terminology. However, as outlined here there are substantial differences between the developmental biology of oviparous vertebrates and mammals, and especially humans, that necessitate modification of the definitions of some of the clinical terms. Where appropriate, therefore, the terminology proposed in this manuscript was redefined based on the biological meanings of the terms used in clinical diagnosis. Considering the large increase in research in the area of reproductive endocrine disruption over the past decades, the authors see an increasing need for a harmonization of terms to be used to describe effects observed in the investigated species. Agreement on a common terminology will allow scientists to better communicate and compare their work, and will enable risk assessors to conduct large-scale evaluations of environmental endocrine disruption by fitting the information from individual studies into a synthesis of normal and abnormal conditions of gonadal tissues.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Abnormalities, Drug-Induced / classification*
  • Amphibians / abnormalities*
  • Animals
  • Environmental Pollutants / toxicity*
  • Fishes / abnormalities*
  • Gonads / abnormalities*
  • Risk Assessment


  • Environmental Pollutants