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Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 1999 Nov;23(7):1011-27.

Prenatal exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals: effects on behavioral development.

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Dipartimento di Biologia Evolutiva e Funzionale, University of Parma, Italy.


Numerous chemicals released into the environment by man are able to disrupt the functioning of the endocrine system by binding to hormonal receptors. Exposure to estrogenic endocrine disruptors during critical periods in fetal life can alter the development of reproductive organs, the neuroendocrine system and subsequent behavior. We present a series of studies on the effects of exposure during fetal life to low, environmentally relevant doses of two pesticides, o,p'DDT and methoxychlor, and of low doses of the synthetic estrogen, diethylstilbestrol on subsequent neuro-behavioral development in house mice. The main findings can be summarized as follows: (1) Mice prenatally exposed to methoxychlor showed changes in reflex development. Exposure to a very low dose of methoxychlor appeared to produce an increased reactivity during early postnatal life. (2) Methoxychlor exposed periadolescent mice showed a decreased reaction time exploring both a novel environment and a novel object. (3) The onset of male intrasex aggression appeared to be delayed in males prenatally exposed to low doses of methoxychlor, since exposed males showed low levels of aggressive interactions during early adolescence but not after they reached adulthood. (4) The rate of depositing urine marks in a novel environment was increased in males prenatally exposed to DES, and also to o,p'DDT and methoxychlor. (5) The proportion of both males and females attacking a same-sex conspecific was increased in mice prenatally exposed to low doses of DES and, marginally, to o,p'DDT. This effect appeared to be related to a decreased latency to attack. However, males prenatally exposed to o,p'DDT displayed a decreased intensity of aggression. The possible implications of perturbing the hormonal milieu during fetal development on the modulation of developmental turnpoints and future behavioral responses are discussed.

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