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Tren Reprod Bio. 2006;2:1-11.

Environmental toxicants and effects on female reproductive function.

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Department of Biological Sciences and NIEHS Marine and Freshwater Biomedical Sciences Center and the Great Lakes Wisconsin Aquatic Technology and Environmental Research (WATER) Institute, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee; the Medical College of Wisconsin; and the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center (WNPRC), USA.


One of the most toxic substances known to humans, 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD or dioxin), is also highly pervasive in the environment. It is created naturally in volcanic eruptions and forest fires, and anthropogenically in waste incineration, chlorination processes and certain plastics manufacture. From reports of large industrial and other accidents, or from experimental studies, dioxin exposure has been correlated in animal models and/or humans with chloracne of the skin, organ cancers, hepatotoxicity, gonadal and immune changes, pulmonary and other diseases such as diabetes, skewing of the sex ratio, and infertility. We have demonstrated that the aromatic hydrocarbon receptor (AHR) that binds dioxin in tissues is localized in zebrafish, rat and rhesus monkey (Macaca mulatta) ovaries and in rat and human luteinizing granulosa cells (GC) (among other tissues), that labeled dioxin is specifically localized to granulosa cells of the ovarian follicle as observed by autoradiography, and that incubations of GC or ovarian fragments with environmentally relevant concentrations (fM to nM) of dioxin inhibit estradiol secretion significantly. Our experiments show that in human, non-human primate, rat, trout, and zebrafish ovarian tissues, dioxin inhibits estrogen synthesis at some level of the steroid biosynthetic pathway, most likely by inhibiting transcription of mRNAs for or activity of side-chain cleavage (Cyp11a1 gene) and/or aromatase (Cyp19a1 gene) enzymes, or conceivably other steroidogenic enzymes/factors. Such an untoward effect on estrogen synthesis in females exposed to dioxin environmentally may predispose them to defects in aspects of their fertility.


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