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Arch Toxicol. 2001 Aug;75(6):362-8.

Disrupted carbonic anhydrase distribution in the avian shell gland following in ovo exposure to estrogen.

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Department of Animal Physiology, Center for Reproductive Biology in Uppsala, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.


Eggshell thinning among wild birds has been an environmental concern for almost half a century and the underlying mechanisms are still not fully understood. Previously we showed that exposure of quail embryos to ethynylestradiol (EE2) caused disorganization of the tubular glands in the shell gland of adult birds. In this study, we have examined the effect of in ovo exposure to EE2 on carbonic anhydrase (CA) localization, especially in the shell gland, because CA is required for shell formation. In the control birds, CA was localized in the cell membranes of the tubular gland cells of the shell gland, whereas the surface epithelium was always devoid of CA. In ovo treatment with 20ng EE2/g egg resulted in a loss of CA activity in the tubular glands while the surface epithelium showed strong induction of both membrane bound and cytoplasmic CA activity in 49+/-1% of the cells. The dose 2ng EE2/g egg resulted in partial loss of tubular gland CA and strong induction of CA activity in 2.5+/-0.5% of the surface epithelial cells and weaker induction in 22+/-2% of the epithelial cells. In conclusion, this study shows that embryonic exposure to a xenoestrogen disrupts CA distribution in the adult shell gland. We propose that eggshell thinning in avian wildlife could reflect a functional malformation in the shell gland, already induced by xenoestrogen during embryonic development rather than being caused solely by exposure of the adult bird.

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