Study shows why synthetic estrogens wreak havoc on reproductive system

March 31, 2008

Researchers at Yale School of Medicine now have a clearer understanding of why synthetic estrogens such as those found in many widely-used plastics have a detrimental effect on a developing fetus, cause fertility problems, as well as vaginal and breast cancers.

Preliminary results of the study will be presented at the 2008 Society for Gynecologic Investigation (SGI) Annual Scientific Meeting held March 26-29 in San Diego, California. The study was led by Hugh S. Taylor, M.D., professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology & Reproductive Science and section chief of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility at Yale School of Medicine.

Past research shows that exposure to the synthetic estrogen diethylstilbestrol (DES) alters the expression of HOXA10, a gene necessary for uterine development, and increases the risk of cancer and pregnancy complications in female offspring.

The team sought to understand why a developing female fetus exposed to DES might develop uterine cancer and other problems years after exposure. Even though DES is no longer on the market, the authors chose to study its effects to gain insight into how similar synthetic estrogens might work.

The team studied DNA from the offspring of 30 pregnant mice injected with DES. They found changes in certain regions of the HOXA10 gene. These alterations continued beyond the time of development and persisted into adulthood, indicating that exposure to DES and similar substances results in lasting genetic memory, known as “imprinting.”

“We found that HOXA 10 protein expression was shifted to the bottom portion of the uterus in the female offspring,” said Taylor. “We also found increased amounts of the enzyme responsible for changes in the DNA. Rather than just changing how much of the protein is there, DES is actually changing the structure of the HOXA 10 gene.

“These findings bring us closer to understanding the way in which DES interacts with the developing reproductive system,” said Taylor.

Pregnant women are frequently exposed to other similar substances with estrogen-like properties, such as Bisphenol-A (BPA). BPA is found in common household plastics and has recently been linked to long-term fertility problems. Like DES, these other substances may also impact female reproductive tract development and the future fertility of female fetuses.

Source: Yale University

Explore further: A molecular alarm clock awakens resting ovules

Related Stories

A molecular alarm clock awakens resting ovules

August 17, 2016

At the start of reproductive life an ovary contains, on average, several thousands of immature ovules in a resting state that can last for several decades. But how does each resting ovule know that it is time to prepare for ...

Childhood environment influences reproductive function

May 15, 2007

A study led by researchers at UCL (University College London) demonstrates that female reproductive function is influenced by childhood environment. This suggests there is a critical window of time from about 0-8 years of ...

Orsini's viper: Growth or reproduction?

November 28, 2012

Orsini's viper, a rare and protected species at risk of extinction in France, has an original reproductive strategy. In alternate years, it switches between reproductive and non-reproductive behavior. This strategy has recently ...

Recommended for you

How the finch changes its tune

August 3, 2015

Like top musicians, songbirds train from a young age to weed out errors and trim variability from their songs, ultimately becoming consistent and reliable performers. But as with human musicians, even the best are not machines. ...

Cow embryos reveal new type of chromosome chimera

May 27, 2016

I've often wondered what happens between the time an egg is fertilized and the time the ball of cells that it becomes nestles into the uterine lining. It's a period that we know very little about, a black box of developmental ...

Shaving time to test antidotes for nerve agents

February 29, 2016

Imagine you wanted to know how much energy it took to bike up a mountain, but couldn't finish the ride to the peak yourself. So, to get the total energy required, you and a team of friends strap energy meters to your bikes ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.