Prenatal DES exposure and disorders of male sexual differentiation

Molecular and cellular endocrinology, 2001

Study Abstract

Over the past 20 years, the documented increase in the disorders of male sexual differentiation, such as hypospadias, cryptorchidism, and micropenis, has led to the suspicion that environmental chemicals are detrimental to normal male genital development in utero.

Environmental xenoestrogens, antiandrogens and disorders of male sexual differentiation, US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, Molecular and cellular endocrinology, NCBI PubMed PMID: 11403899, 2001 Jun.

Image credit Travis.

Male sexual differentiation is critically dependent on the normal action of androgens, and unbalanced androgen/estrogen ratios can disturb it. Environmental xenoestrogens (such as herbicides, pesticides, PCBs, plasticizers, and polystyrenes) that mimic estrogens or environmental antiandrogens (such as polyaromatic hydrocarbons, linuron, vinclozolin, and pp’DDE) that disturb endocrine balance, cause demasculinizing effects in the male foetus.

These environmental chemicals are often referred to as endocrine disruptors: they are thought to mimic endogenous estrogens by entering the cell, binding to the receptor and activating transcription, they may also antagonize normal androgen action.

We have established numerous cell lines to assess the estrogenicity and antiandrogenicity of compounds found in the environment and to identify new products present in wastewater effluents that are able to disrupt endocrine functions. Several cell lines responding to estrogens have been obtained in our group, including cells with different enzymatic equipment and cells expressing chimeric receptor or natural estrogen receptors alpha and beta. These cell lines have proved to be useful for assessing the biological activity of pesticides, fungicides, and chemicals found in plastic or discarded in the environment. In order to generate a powerful tool for the investigation of androgen action and the rapid screening of potential antagonists, we developed a new stable prostatic cell line. The PALM cell line is an original cellular model to characterize the response of hAR, and it provides an easy and rapid bioluminescent test to identify new antagonists. We also developed a model based on a fusion protein between the androgen receptor (AR) and the green fluorescent protein (GFP) to study the intracellular dynamics of AR. The GFP-AR model was applied to define the ability of several xenoestrogens and antiandrogens to inhibit the nuclear transfer of AR.

The ubiquitous presence of endocrine disruptors in the environment and the increased incidence of neonatal genital malformation support the hypothesis that disturbed male sexual differentiation may in some cases be caused by increased exposure to environmental xenoestrogens and/or antiandrogens.

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