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J Clin Invest. 2007 Dec;117(12):3971-8.

Maternal exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons diminishes murine ovarian reserve via induction of Harakiri.

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Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Division of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility, University of Toronto, Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute, Mount Sinai Hospital, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.


Maternal smoking during pregnancy is associated with a variety of adverse neonatal outcomes including altered reproductive performance. Herein we provide molecular evidence for a pathway involved in the elimination of the female germline due to prepregnancy and/or lactational exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), environmental toxicants found in cigarette smoke. We show that ovaries of offspring born to mice exposed to PAHs contained only a third of the ovarian follicle pool compared with offspring of unexposed female mice. Activation of the cell death pathway in immature follicles of exposed females was mediated by the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (Ahr), as ovarian reserve was fully rescued by maternal cotreatment with the Ahr antagonist, resveratrol, or by inactivation of the Ahr gene. Furthermore, in response to PAHs, Ahr-mediated activation of the harakiri, BCL2 interacting protein (contains only BH3 domain), was necessary for execution of cell death. This pathway appeared to be conserved between mouse and human, as xenotransplanted human ovarian cortex exposed to PAHs responded by activation of the identical cell death cascade. Our data indicate that maternal exposure to PAHs prior to pregnancy and/or during lactation compromises ovarian reserve of female offspring, raising the concern about the transgenerational impact of maternal smoking on ovarian function in the human.

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