Phthalates are commonly used as plasticizers in the manufacturing of flexible polyvinyl chloride products. Large production volumes of phthalates and their widespread use in common consumer, medical, building, and personal care products lead to ubiquitous human exposure via oral ingestion, inhalation, and dermal contact. Recently, several phthalates have been classified as reproductive toxicants and endocrine-disrupting chemicals based on their ability to interfere with normal reproductive function and hormone signaling. Therefore, exposure to phthalates represents a public health concern. Currently, the effects of phthalates on male reproduction are better understood than the effects on female reproduction. This is of concern because women are often exposed to higher levels of phthalates than men through their extensive use of personal care and cosmetic products. In the female, a primary regulator of reproductive and endocrine function is the ovary. Specifically, the ovary is responsible for folliculogenesis, the proper maturation of gametes for fertilization, and steroidogenesis, and the synthesis of necessary sex steroid hormones. Any defect in the regulation of these processes can cause complications for reproductive and non-reproductive health. For instance, phthalate-induced defects in folliculogenesis and steroidogenesis can cause infertility, premature ovarian failure, and non-reproductive disorders. Presently, there is a paucity of knowledge on the effects of phthalates on normal ovarian function; however, recent work has established the ovary as a target of phthalate toxicity. This review summarizes what is currently known about the effects of phthalates on the ovary and the mechanisms by which phthalates exert ovarian toxicity, with a particular focus on the effects on folliculogenesis and steroidogenesis. Further, this review outlines future directions, including the necessity of examining the effects of phthalates at doses that mimic human exposure.
Keywords: female reproductive toxicology; folliculogenesis; ovarian toxicology; ovary; phthalates; phthalic acid; steroidogenesis.