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J Anim Sci. 2014 Aug;92(8):3199-210. doi: 10.2527/jas.2014-7637.

Reproduction Symposium: developmental programming of reproductive and metabolic health.

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Departments of Pediatrics Obstetrics and Gynecology Molecular and Integrative Physiology Environmental Health Sciences, The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor 48108
Departments of Pediatrics.


Inappropriate programming of the reproductive system by developmental exposure to excess steroid hormones is of concern. Sheep are well suited for investigating developmental origin of reproductive and metabolic disorders. The developmental time line of female sheep (approximately 5 mo gestation and approximately 7 mo to puberty) is ideal for conducting sequential studies of the progression of metabolic and/or reproductive disruption from the developmental insult to manifestation of adult consequences. Major benefits of using sheep include knowledge of established critical periods to target adult defects, a rich understanding of reproductive neuroendocrine regulation, availability of noninvasive approaches to monitor follicular dynamics, established surgical approaches to obtain hypophyseal portal blood for measurement of hypothalamic hormones, and the ability to perform studies in natural setting thereby keeping behavioral interactions intact. Of importance is the ability to chronically instrument fetus and mother for determining early endocrine perturbations. Prenatal exposure of the female to excess testosterone (T) leads to an array of adult reproductive disorders that include LH excess, functional hyperandrogenism, neuroendocrine defects, multifollicular ovarian morphology, and corpus luteum dysfunction culminating in early reproductive failure. At the neuroendocrine level, all 3 feedback systems are compromised. At the pituitary level, gonadotrope (LH secretion) sensitivity to GnRH is increased. Multifollicular ovarian morphology stems from persistence of follicles as well as enhanced follicular recruitment. These defects culminate in progressive loss of cyclicity and reduced fecundity. Prenatal T excess also leads to fetal growth retardation, an early marker of adult reproductive and metabolic diseases, insulin resistance, hypertension, and behavioral deficits. Collectively, the reproductive and metabolic deficits of prenatal T-treated sheep provide proof of concept for the developmental origin of fertility and metabolic disorders. Studies with the environmental endocrine disruptor bisphenol A (BPA) show that reproductive disruptions found in prenatal BPA-treated sheep are similar to those seen in prenatal T-treated sheep. The ubiquitous exposure to endocrine disrupting compounds with steroidogenic potential via the environment and food sources calls for studies addressing the impact of developmental exposure to environmental steroid mimics on reproductive function.


androgens; developmental programming; estrogens; infertility

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