Proposed Key Characteristics of Female Reproductive Toxicants as an Approach for Organizing and Evaluating Mechanistic Data in Hazard Assessment

Environ Health Perspect. 2019 Jul;127(7):75001. doi: 10.1289/EHP4971. Epub 2019 Jul 19.


Background: Identification of female reproductive toxicants is currently based largely on integrated epidemiological and in vivo toxicology data and, to a lesser degree, on mechanistic data. A uniform approach to systematically search, organize, integrate, and evaluate mechanistic evidence of female reproductive toxicity from various data types is lacking.

Objective: We sought to apply a key characteristics approach similar to that pioneered for carcinogen hazard identification to female reproductive toxicant hazard identification.

Methods: A working group of international experts was convened to discuss mechanisms associated with chemical-induced female reproductive toxicity and identified 10 key characteristics of chemicals that cause female reproductive toxicity: 1) alters hormone receptor signaling; alters reproductive hormone production, secretion, or metabolism; 2) chemical or metabolite is genotoxic; 3) induces epigenetic alterations; 4) causes mitochondrial dysfunction; 5) induces oxidative stress; 6) alters immune function; 7) alters cell signal transduction; 8) alters direct cell–cell interactions; 9) alters survival, proliferation, cell death, or metabolic pathways; and 10) alters microtubules and associated structures. As proof of principle, cyclophosphamide and diethylstilbestrol (DES), for which both human and animal studies have demonstrated female reproductive toxicity, display at least 5 and 3 key characteristics, respectively. 2,3,7,8-Tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD), for which the epidemiological evidence is mixed, exhibits 5 key characteristics.

Discussion: Future efforts should focus on evaluating the proposed key characteristics against additional known and suspected female reproductive toxicants. Chemicals that exhibit one or more of the key characteristics could be prioritized for additional evaluation and testing. A key characteristics approach has the potential to integrate with pathway-based toxicity testing to improve prediction of female reproductive toxicity in chemicals and potentially prevent some toxicants from entering common use.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Female
  • Hazardous Substances / toxicity*
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Rats
  • Reproduction / drug effects*
  • Risk Assessment / methods


  • Hazardous Substances