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Environ Health Perspect. 2010 Apr;118(4):552-7. doi: 10.1289/ehp.0901418.

Low levels of the herbicide atrazine alter sex ratios and reduce metamorphic success in Rana pipiens tadpoles raised in outdoor mesocosms.

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Centre for Advanced Research in Environmental Genomics, Department of Biology, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.



There are conflicting reports regarding the effects of atrazine (ATZ) on amphibian development. Therefore, further studies are needed to examine the potential mechanisms of action of ATZ in amphibians.


Our aim in this study was to determine whether low concentrations of ATZ affect gonadal development and metamorphosis in the Northern leopard frog, Rana pipiens.


Tadpoles were exposed in outdoor mesocosms to nominal concentrations of 0.1 and 1.8 microg/L of formulated ATZ from Gosner stage 27 (G27) to metamorphic climax (G42). Exposure to 17alpha-ethinylestradiol (EE2; 1.5 microg/L) provided a positive control for induction of testicular oocytes in males. Endocrine-related gene expression and gonadal histopathology were examined at G42 and in a subset of premetamorphic G34 tadpoles that failed to metamorphose.


Gonadal gross morphology revealed that the 1.8-microg/L ATZ treatment produced 20% more females compared with the control. Histologic analysis revealed that 22% of EE2-treated males had testicular oocytes, whereas none were observed in any animals from the control or either ATZ groups. ATZ increased brain estrogen receptor alpha mRNA to 2.5 times that of the control at premetamorphosis and altered liver levels of 5beta-reductase activity at metamorphosis. In contrast, brain aromatase mRNA level and activity did not change. ATZ treatments significantly reduced metamorphic success (number of animals reaching metamorphosis) without affecting body weight, snout-vent length, or age at metamorphosis. Gene expression analysis indicated that ATZ decreased the expression of deiodinase type 3 in the tail at premetamorphosis.


Our study indicates that exposure to low concentrations of ATZ in experimental mesocosms alters gonadal differentiation and metamorphosis in developing R. pipiens.

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