Genetic resistance to DEHP-induced transgenerational endocrine disruption

PLoS One. 2019 Jun 10;14(6):e0208371. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0208371. eCollection 2019.


Di(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate (DEHP) interferes with sex hormones signaling pathways (SHP). C57BL/6J mice prenatally exposed to 300 mg/kg/day DEHP develop a testicular dysgenesis syndrome (TDS) at adulthood, but similarly-exposed FVB/N mice are not affected. Here we aim to understand the reasons behind this drastic difference that should depend on the genome of the strain. In both backgrounds, pregnant female mice received per os either DEHP or corn oil vehicle and the male filiations were examined. Computer-assisted sperm analysis showed a DEHP-induced decreased sperm count and velocities in C57BL/6J. Sperm RNA sequencing experiments resulted in the identification of the 62 most differentially expressed RNAs. These RNAs, mainly regulated by hormones, produced strain-specific transcriptional responses to prenatal exposure to DEHP; a pool of RNAs was increased in FVB, another pool of RNAs was decreased in C57BL/6J. In FVB/N, analysis of non-synonymous single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNP) impacting SHP identified rs387782768 and rs29315913 respectively associated with absence of the Forkhead Box A3 (Foxa3) RNA and increased expression of estrogen receptor 1 variant 4 (NM_001302533) RNA. Analysis of the role of SNPs modifying SHP binding sites in function of strain-specific responses to DEHP revealed a DEHP-resistance allele in FVB/N containing an additional FOXA1-3 binding site at rs30973633 and four DEHP-induced beta-defensins (Defb42, Defb30, Defb47 and Defb48). A DEHP-susceptibility allele in C57BL/6J contained five SNPs (rs28279710, rs32977910, rs46648903, rs46677594 and rs48287999) affecting SHP and six genes (Svs2, Svs3b, Svs4, Svs3a, Svs6 and Svs5) epigenetically silenced by DEHP. Finally, targeted experiments confirmed increased methylation in the Svs3ab promoter with decreased SEMG2 persisting across generations, providing a molecular explanation for the transgenerational sperm velocity decrease found in C57BL/6J after DEHP exposure. We conclude that the existence of SNP-dependent mechanisms in FVB/N inbred mice may confer resistance to transgenerational endocrine disruption.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • DNA Methylation
  • Diethylhexyl Phthalate / pharmacology*
  • Endocrine Disruptors / pharmacology*
  • Epigenesis, Genetic / drug effects
  • Epigenesis, Genetic / genetics
  • Female
  • Male
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Inbred Strains
  • Oligospermia / chemically induced
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects
  • Seminal Vesicle Secretory Proteins / genetics
  • Species Specificity
  • Spermatozoa / drug effects


  • Endocrine Disruptors
  • Seminal Vesicle Secretory Proteins
  • Diethylhexyl Phthalate

Grants and funding

This research was supported by the Swiss Centre for Applied Human Toxicology to AG ( and the Ernst and Lucie Schmidheiny Foundation to LS (