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Reprod Fertil Dev. 2010;22(2):416-25. doi: 10.1071/RD08293.

Effects on differentiation of reproductive organs and sexual behaviour in Japanese quail by excessive embryonic ERalpha activation.

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  • 1Department of Environmental Toxicology, Uppsala University, Norbyvägen 18A, SE-75236 Uppsala, Sweden.


Exposure of Japanese quail (Coturnix japonica) embryos to oestrogenic substances disrupts sexual differentiation of the reproductive tract of both sexes and impairs the copulatory behaviour of the adult male. To examine whether these effects can be induced by selective activation of oestrogen receptor alpha (ERalpha), Japanese quail eggs were injected with various doses of the selective ERalpha agonist 16alpha-lactone-oestradiol (16alpha-LE(2)). The natural oestrogen 17beta-oestradiol (E(2)) was used as a positive control. Both 16alpha-LE(2) and E(2) induced formation of an ovary-like cortex in the left testis (ovotestis) and reduced the size of the right testis in male embryos. The asymmetry in testis size remained in sexually mature males. Both substances induced retention and malformation of the Müllerian ducts in embryos of both sexes and malformed oviducts in juveniles. Male copulatory behaviour was suppressed by embryonic exposure to E(2) and the highest dose of 16alpha-LE(2). However, the lower dose of 16alpha-LE(2), which markedly affected development of the reproductive organs, was without effects on behaviour. It can therefore not be excluded that the behavioural demasculinisation at the 100-fold higher dose involved cross-activation of oestrogen receptor beta (ERbeta). In conclusion, our results suggest that oestrogen-induced disruption of reproductive organ development in Japanese quail can be mediated via ERalpha, whereas the role of ERalpha in demasculinisation of copulatory behaviour remains to be clarified.

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