Developmental exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals programs for reproductive tract alterations and obesity later in life

Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 Dec;94(6 Suppl):1939S-1942S. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.110.001057. Epub 2011 Nov 16.


Many chemicals in the environment, especially those with estrogenic activity, are able to disrupt the programming of endocrine signaling pathways established during development; these chemicals are referred to as endocrine-disrupting chemicals. Altered programming can result in numerous adverse consequences in estrogen-target tissues, some of which may not be apparent until later in life. For example, a wide variety of structural, functional, and cellular effects have been identified in reproductive tract tissues. In addition to well-documented reproductive changes, obesity and diabetes have joined the list of adverse effects that have been associated with developmental exposure to environmental estrogens and other endocrine-disrupting chemicals. Obesity is a significant public health problem reaching epidemic proportions worldwide. Experimental animal studies document an association of developmental exposure to environmental estrogens and obesity. For example, a murine model of perinatal exposure to diethylstilbestrol has proven useful in studying mechanisms involved in abnormal programming of differentiating estrogen-target tissues, including reproductive tract tissues and adipocytes. Other environmental estrogens, including the environmental contaminant bisphenol A, have also been linked to reproductive problems and obesity later in life. Epidemiology studies support similar findings in humans, as do studies of cells in culture. Together, these findings suggest new targets for abnormal programming by estrogenic chemicals and provide evidence supporting the scientific concept termed the developmental origins of adult disease. Furthermore, the association of environmental estrogens with obesity and diabetes expands the focus on these diseases from intervention or treatment to include prevention or avoidance of chemical modifiers, especially during critical windows of development.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Adipocytes
  • Animals
  • Benzhydryl Compounds
  • Diethylstilbestrol / toxicity
  • Endocrine Disruptors / toxicity*
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Environmental Pollutants / toxicity*
  • Epidemiologic Studies
  • Estrogens / metabolism
  • Estrogens, Non-Steroidal / toxicity
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Models, Animal
  • Obesity / epidemiology*
  • Obesity / etiology
  • Phenols / toxicity
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects
  • Prevalence
  • Public Health
  • Reproduction / drug effects*


  • Benzhydryl Compounds
  • Endocrine Disruptors
  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Estrogens
  • Estrogens, Non-Steroidal
  • Phenols
  • Diethylstilbestrol
  • bisphenol A