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J Toxicol Environ Health A. 1998 May 22;54(2):77-99.

Endocrine mechanisms underlying reproductive toxicity in the developing rat chronically exposed to dietary lead.

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Department of Pediatrics, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Little Rock 72205, USA.


A dose-response study was conducted in a rat model to examine the effects of lifetime lead exposure on the development of the reproductive system and the endocrine mechanisms underlying these effects. Time-impregnated female Sprague-Dawley rats (n = 10-15/group) were exposed to lead acetate in the drinking water at levels of 0.05%, 0. 15%, or 0.45% (w/v) initiated on gestational day 5. At birth, litters were culled to four male and four female pups. Exposure of dams to lead was continued until weaning, following which, the pups continued to be exposed to lead acetate in drinking water until sacrifice. One male and one female pup from each litter were sacrificed at age 21, 35, 55, and 85 d. A significant dose-responsive decrease in birth weight and crown-to-rump length was observed in all lead-exposed litters. However, no marked effects were observed on anogenital distance/crown-to-rump length ratios. Lead exposure resulted in a delay in sexual maturity as measured by prostate weight in male pups and time of vaginal opening in female pups, which increased with lead dose. These disruptions in reproductive physiology were accompanied by a significant decrease in neonatal sex steroid levels and suppression of the plasma concentrations of testosterone (male) and estradiol (female) during puberty. In male pups, this was accompanied by a significant decrease in plasma luteinizing hormone (LH), elevated pituitary LH content, and a decrease in plasma testosterone/LH ratios at the highest dose. In female pups, although no effects were observed on plasma LH concentration, a similar significant elevation in pituitary LH content was observed during early puberty. Postpuberty, plasma LH and sex steroid concentrations were unaffected at any dose in spite of continued lead exposure. No significant effects were observed on epididymal sperm count in male pups at 85 d of age. In female pups, estrus cycling was only significantly disrupted at the highest lead dose. These data suggest that the reproductive axis is particularly sensitive to lead during specific developmental periods, resulting in delayed sexual maturation produced by suppression by sex steroid biosynthesis. The mechanisms underlying this appear to involve lead actions on both LH release and gonadal function. At low, environmentally relevant blood lead concentrations, adaptation to the continuous presence of the metal ion occurs and surprisingly little effect is observed on adult reproductive endocrinology and physiology.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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