Defining a DES “programming window”

Identification of a sensitive period for developmental programming that increases risk for uterine leiomyoma in Eker rats

2007 Study Abstract

Epidemiological and experimental animal studies have shown that exposure to xenoestrogens during reproductive tract development reprograms target tissues, leading to increased disease risk later in adult life. To understand what defines the critical risk period for this effect, termed developmental programming, the authors assess the sensitivity of the female reproductive tract to developmental programming during various stages of neonatal development.

Eker rats, which are predisposed to develop uterine leiomyoma because of a germ-line defect in the tuberous sclerosis complex 2 (Tsc-2) tumor suppressor gene, were exposed to the xenoestrogen diethylstilbestrol (DES) on either postnatal days

  • 3 to 5,
  • 10 to 12,
  • or 17 to 19,

3 important periods of reproductive tract development and differentiation.

  • Developmental programming was observed in both carrier (Tsc-2(Ek/+)) and wild-type (Tsc-2(+/+)) rats exposed to DES at days 3 to 5 and days 10 to 12
  • but not in rats exposed at days 17 to 19.

Developmental programming resulted in increased tumor suppressor gene penetrance in Tsc-2(Ek/+) females relative to vehicle controls.

In contrast, DES exposure at days 17 to 19 did not significantly increase the incidence of uterine leiomyoma in carrier females, indicating that the window of susceptibility had closed by this time.

Gene expression analysis to determine what defined the susceptible (days 3-5 and days 10-12) versus resistant (days 17-19) periods revealed that in adult myometrium, expression of the estrogen-responsive genes calbindin D(9)K and progesterone receptor had been reprogrammed in females exposed to DES at days 3 to 5 and days 10 to 12 but not in those exposed at days 17 to 19.

Reprogramming in response to DES exposure resulted in a hyperresponsiveness to ovarian hormones and could be prevented by ovariectomy prior to sexual maturity. Furthermore, in the neonatal uterus, DES was equally effective at inducing transcription of estrogen-responsive genes during both sensitive and resistant periods, indicating that resistance to developmental programming was not due to an inability of the estrogen receptor to transactivate gene expression.

Interestingly, the resistant period coincided with the time at which reproductive tract tissues are exposed to endogenous estrogen, suggesting that target tissues are most vulnerable to developmental programming during the period in which they would normally be maintained in an estrogen-naïve state.

Sources

  • Identification of a sensitive period for developmental programming that increases risk for uterine leiomyoma in Eker rats, Reproductive sciences (Thousand Oaks, Calif.), NCBI PubMed PMID: 17636224, 2007 Feb.
  • Featured image credit Fabian Grohs.
DES DIETHYLSTILBESTROL RESOURCES

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