From malformations to molecular mechanisms in the male

Three decades of research on endocrine disrupters

2001 Study Abstract

For three decades, we have known that estrogens alter the development of the mammalian reproductive system in predictable ways.

In mice exposed prenatally to diethylstilbestrol (DES) or other estrogens, the male offspring exhibit structural malformations including cryptorchidism, epididymal cysts and retained Mullerian ducts.

The estrogen-associated alterations in the genital tract phenotype can be usefully considered as a model called Developmental Estrogenization Syndrome. While estrogen treatment during critical periods of morphogenesis of the male reproductive system has been associated with these changes, the mechanisms at the molecular level are still being discovered. Parallel findings on the hormones involved in Mullerian duct regression and testicular descent have helped guide research on the mechanisms of developmental estrogenization of the male.

Cellular localization of molecular signals associated with key steps in genital tract development, use of mice with gene disruption, and knowledge of the mechanisms underlying persistent changes in gene expression are beginning to provide a blue print for both the physiological role and pathological effects of estrogens in reproductive tract development.

Since many of the same biological principles underlie genital tract morphogenesis in mammals, one may expect some of the same changes in males of other species exposed to estrogen during the appropriate developmental periods.


  • From malformations to molecular mechanisms in the male: three decades of research on endocrine disrupters, APMIS : acta pathologica, microbiologica, et immunologica Scandinavica, NCBI PubMed, PMID: 11469497, 2001 Apr.
  • Featured image credit Jaredd Craig.

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