Female reproductive lifespan is largely determined by the size of the primordial follicle pool, which is established in early life. Dibutyl phthalate (DBP), a popular plasticiser, is a known environmental endocrine disruptor that poses a potential threat to reproductive health. However, DBP impact on early oogenesis has been rarely reported. In this study, maternal exposure to DBP in gestation disrupted germ-cell cyst breakdown and primordial follicle assembly in foetal ovary, impairing female fertility in adulthood. Subsequently, altered autophagic flux with autophagosome accumulation was observed in DBP-exposed ovaries carrying CAG-RFP-EGFP-LC3 reporter genes, whereas autophagy inhibition by 3-methyladenine attenuated the impact of DBP on primordial folliculogenesis. Moreover, DBP exposure reduced the expression of NOTCH2 intracellular domain (NICD2) and decreased interactions between NICD2 and Beclin-l. NICD2 was observed within the autophagosomes in DBP-exposed ovaries. Furthermore, NICD2 overexpression partially restored primordial folliculogenesis. Furthermore, melatonin significantly relieved oxidative stress, decreased autophagy, and restored NOTCH2 signalling, consequently reversing the effect on folliculogenesis. Therefore, this study demonstrated that gestational DBP exposure disrupts primordial folliculogenesis by inducing autophagy, which targets NOTCH2 signalling, and this impact has long-term consequences on fertility in adulthood, strengthening the potential contribution of environmental chemicals to the development of ovarian dysfunctional diseases.
Keywords: Autophagy; Dibutyl phthalate; Fertility; Melatonin; NOTCH2; Primordial folliculogenesis.
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