Some environmental contaminants interact with hormones and may exert adverse consequences as a result of their actions as endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs). Exposure in people is typically a result of contamination of the food chain, inhalation of contaminated house dust or occupational exposure. EDCs include pesticides and herbicides (such as dichlorodiphenyl trichloroethane or its metabolites), methoxychlor, biocides, heat stabilisers and chemical catalysts (such as tributyltin), plastic contaminants (e.g. bisphenol A), pharmaceuticals (i.e. diethylstilbestrol; 17α-ethinylestradiol) or dietary components (such as phytoestrogens). The goal of this review is to address the sources, effects and actions of EDCs, with an emphasis on topics discussed at the International Congress on Steroids and the Nervous System. EDCs may alter reproductively-relevant or nonreproductive, sexually-dimorphic behaviours. In addition, EDCs may have significant effects on neurodevelopmental processes, influencing the morphology of sexually-dimorphic cerebral circuits. Exposure to EDCs is more dangerous if it occurs during specific 'critical periods' of life, such as intrauterine, perinatal, juvenile or puberty periods, when organisms are more sensitive to hormonal disruption, compared to other periods. However, exposure to EDCs in adulthood can also alter physiology. Several EDCs are xenoestrogens, which can alter serum lipid concentrations or metabolism enzymes that are necessary for converting cholesterol to steroid hormones. This can ultimately alter the production of oestradiol and/or other steroids. Finally, many EDCs may have actions via (or independent of) classic actions at cognate steroid receptors. EDCs may have effects through numerous other substrates, such as the aryl hydrocarbon receptor, the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor and the retinoid X receptor, signal transduction pathways, calcium influx and/or neurotransmitter receptors. Thus, EDCs, from varied sources, may have organisational effects during development and/or activational effects in adulthood that influence sexually-dimorphic, reproductively-relevant processes or other functions, by mimicking, antagonising or altering steroidal actions.
© 2011 The Authors. Journal of Neuroendocrinology © 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.