Estrogens before birth and development of sex-related reproductive traits

Prenatal exposure to estrogen and sexual orientation in women

Studies of women exposed to high levels of estrogens prenatally could provide information regarding effects of early exposure to masculinizing hormones on sexual differentiation of brain and behavior independent of influences on the external genitalia.

1995 Study Abstract

Influences of estrogens on the differentiation of psychosexual traits in the female guinea pig were studied.

Estrogens before birth and development of sex-related reproductive traits in the female guinea pig, US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, Hormones and behavior, NCBI PubMed PMID: 4054856, 1985 Sep.

Guinea Pigs image credit photon_de.

Pregnant animals were injected intramuscularly with either 1, 2, or 3.3 micrograms estradiol benzoate (EB) or with 1 or 3 micrograms diethylstilbestrol dipropionate (DESDP). Injections were started on the 29th day of pregnancy, given daily for 6 days, and continued every other day until parturition.

Female offspring were evaluated for onset of puberty, ovarian function, and lordosis and mounting behavior in adulthood.

  • Prenatal treatment with 3 micrograms DESDP caused delayed puberty, impaired ovarian function, reduced responsiveness of lordosis to EB and P in adulthood (defeminization), augmented mounting in the absence of hormones (masculinization), and reduced responsiveness of mounting to exogenous EB and P in adulthood (defeminization).
  • Prenatal treatment with 1 microgram DESDP produced similar but less pronounced effects.
  • Prenatal treatment with 3.3 micrograms EB also caused a delay in puberty. However, responsiveness of lordosis to EB and P in adulthood was enhanced by treatment with either 1 or 3.3 micrograms EB prenatally. Further, neither mounting in the absence of hormones nor mounting in response to EB and P in adulthood were affected in any measurable way by any prenatal treatment with EB.

These results show that estrogens can have masculinizing and defeminizing effects on sexually dimorphic reproductive traits in guinea pigs. The failure of EB to duplicate or parallel the effects of DESDP is not completely understood at this time, but it may indicate that less of the active substance reaches the target tissues following maternal and placental metabolism of EB than of DESDP.

More DES DiEthylStilbestrol Resources

2 Replies to “Estrogens before birth and development of sex-related reproductive traits”

  1. This is a good example of how DES has masculinising effects on the brains of rodents. In rodents, brain masculinisation is mainly driven through the action of estrogens on estrogen receptors. However, that’s not how it works in primates (including human beings). In primates, brain masculinisation appears to be entirely driven through androgen receptors (through the action of testosterone and DHT), with estrogens playing no role at all. Scientists didn’t realise this until quite recently though, which is one reason why nearly all the research into the psychosexual effects of DES has been driven down a blind alley of looking for masculinising effects in the female offspring (when what it’s actually done is produce feminising effects in the male offspring).

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