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Environ Health Perspect. 2002 Sep;110(9):917-21.

Combining xenoestrogens at levels below individual no-observed-effect concentrations dramatically enhances steroid hormone action.

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Centre for Toxicology, School of Pharmacy, London, United Kingdom.


The low potency of many man-made estrogenic chemicals, so-called xenoestrogens, has been used to suggest that risks arising from exposure to individual chemicals are negligible. Another argument used to dismiss concerns of health effects is that endogenous steroidal estrogens are too potent for xenoestrogens to contribute significantly to estrogenic effects. Using a yeast reporter gene assay with the human estrogen receptoralpha, we tested these ideas experimentally by assessing the ability of a combination of 11 xenoestrogens to affect the actions of 17ss-estradiol. Significantly, each xenoestrogen was present at a level well below its no-observed-effect concentration (NOEC). To derive accurate descriptions of low effects, we recorded concentration-response relationships for each xenoestrogen and for 17ss-estradiol. We used these data to predict entire concentration-response curves of mixtures of xenoestrogens with 17ss-estradiol, assuming additive combination effects. Over a large range of concentrations, the experimentally observed responses decisively confirmed the model predictions. The combined additive effect of the 11 xenoestrogens led to a dramatic enhancement of the hormone's action, even when each single agent was present below its NOEC. Our results show that not even sub-NOEC levels of xenoestrogens can be considered to be without effect on potent steroidal estrogens when they act in concert with a large number of similarly acting chemicals. It remains to be seen to what degree these effects can be neutralized by environmental chemicals with antiestrogenic activity. Nevertheless, potential human and wildlife responses induced by additive combination effects of xenoestrogens deserve serious consideration.

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