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Reprod Toxicol. 2019 Dec;90:33-43. doi: 10.1016/j.reprotox.2019.08.010. Epub 2019 Aug 16.

Essential oils disrupt steroidogenesis in a feto-placental co-culture model.

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INRS - Institut Armand-Frappier, Laval, QC, H7V 1B7, Canada. Electronic address:
INRS - Institut Armand-Frappier, Laval, QC, H7V 1B7, Canada. Electronic address:


We determined whether 5 common essential oils (basil, fennel seed, orange, black pepper and sage) interfered with feto-placental steroidogenesis in a co-culture model composed of fetal-like adrenocortical (H295R) and placental trophoblast-like (BeWo) cells. After a 24 h exposure, only basil and fennel seed oil significantly increased hormone concentrations of estradiol, estrone, dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), androstenedione, progesterone, and estriol. Basil and fennel seed oil were shown to significantly alter the expression of steroidogenic enzymes involved in cholesterol transport and steroid hormone biosynthesis, including StAR, CYP11A1, 3β-HSD1/2, SULT2A1, and HSD17β1, -4, and -5. Also, basil and fennel seed oil stimulated placental-specific promoter I.1 and pII-derived CYP19 mRNA in BeWo and H295R cells, respectively, as well as, increased CYP19 enzyme activity. Our results indicate that further study is necessary to determine the potential risks of using basil and fennel seed oils during pregnancy considering their potential to disrupt steroidogenic enzyme activity and expression in vitro.


Aromatase; Co-culture; Essential oils; Estrogen; Feto-placental unit; Steroidogenesis

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