DES Prenatal Exposure Effects on Human Development

Diethylstilbestrol prenatal exposure can affect gender variance in humans

1977 Study Abstract

Maternal treatment with estrogens (including diethylstilbestrol, DES, a synthetic nonsteroidal estrogen) for the maintenance of pregnancy has been implicated in a number of cases in which female fetuses were born with masculinized genitalia (Bongiovanni et al., 1959).

In other reports DES and conjugated equine estrogen (Premarin) (Grumbach and Ducharme, 1960; Grumbach et al., 1959; Jones and Wilkins, 1960; Wilkins, 1960; Wilkins et al., 1958) were administered in addition to progestins. Although the estrogen could not be credited with being the active agent, “these substances certainly did not prevent fetal masculinization” (Wilkins, 1960).

As Walker and Money (1972) noted in a review of a number of these cases: “The affected children born to these mothers were as likely to be masculinized as were those children born to non-estrogen-treated mothers who took progesfins.”

Hypospadias in males who were exposed to DES in utero has been reported by Kaplan (1959) and Yalom et al. (1973). It would seem that the paradoxical effects of masculinization (defeminization) of females and feminization (demasculinization) of males found as a result of exposure to progestins in humans and animals are characteristic of treatment with estrogen as well.

  • Download the full study, Prenatal Exposure to Synthetic Progestins and Estrogens: Effects on Human Development, on germline exposures.
  • Image credit Dana.

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