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Basic Clin Pharmacol Toxicol. 2008 Feb;102(2):168-75. doi: 10.1111/j.1742-7843.2007.00180.x.

Endocrine disruptors and abnormalities of pubertal development.

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Vlaamse Instelling voor Technologisch Onderzoek (VITO), Environmental Toxicology Unit, Mol, Belgium.


Onset and development of puberty is regulated by the neuroendocrine system. Population-based studies worldwide have observed secular trends towards earlier puberty development. These changes are apparently caused by environmental factors such as improved socio-economic status, improved health care and nutrition. However, they may also partly result from endocrine-disrupting chemicals in the environment. Epidemiological studies have investigated the relationship between pubertal development and exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals (polychlorinated biphenyls, polybrominated biphenyls, 1,1,1-trichloro-2,2-bis(p-chlorophenyl)ethane, phthalate esters, furans and the pesticide endosulfan). Associations with both perinatal and postnatal exposure have been reported. Studies in experimental animals support some of these findings and point to differential endocrine regulatory mechanisms linked to pubertal development acting in the perinatal and the pre-pubertal period. Pubertal development is naturally associated with growth and body composition. There is increasing evidence for a link between prenatal development and pubertal onset. In girls born small for gestational age (SGA), pubertal onset and age at menarche often are advanced, especially if there has been an extensive catch-up growth during the first months of life. In utero growth retardation may have multiple causes including exposure to xenobiotic substances as was suggested for some endocrine-disrupting chemicals. An abnormal perinatal environment of children born SGA may alter the endocrine status and the sensitivity of the receptors for endocrine and metabolic signalling that may have effects on maturation of brain and gonads. However, the causal pathways and the molecular mechanisms that may link the pubertal growth pattern of children born SGA, pubertal development and endocrine-disrupting chemicals need further study.

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