Prenatal exposure to phthalates damages reproductive tissue in female mice

Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Phthalates are a ubiquitous family of chemicals that are used every day. In a new study, researchers have investigated how these compounds affect tissue development in the reproductive systems of female mice offspring.

"Phthalates are found everywhere: Building products, , food and beverage containers, and medical equipment," said Jodi Flaws (EIRH co-leader/MME), a professor of comparative biosciences at University of Illinois Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology. "My research group focuses on how exposure to these environmental chemicals during pregnancy affect the offspring."

Previous studies by the group have found that mixtures disrupt female reproduction, change organ weights, and cause . In the current study, they are looking at how these mixtures affect ovarian steroidogenesis—a process that produces hormones that are required for reproduction—in female offspring. The researchers also looked at folliculogenesis, which is essential for fertility. Follicles are small fluid-filled sacs inside ovaries that contain the eggs. They undergo maturation before they release the egg during ovulation.

In the study, the pregnant mice were orally given either a control or a phthalate mixture every day from the first day of pregnancy till birth. "The reproductive system of the offspring develops during this window. The mice are no longer exposed to any phthalates after they are born," Flaws said.

The ovaries of the female offspring were then collected 60 days after birth and the tissues and their were analyzed. "We examined hormones such as estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone because they are important for normal fertility and tissue maintenance," Flaws said.

The female mice whose mothers had been exposed to phthalates had lower levels of all three hormones compared to the controls. "Since the hormones are also important for other things in the body, such as , bone health, and , it is possible there are other effects of the mixture," Flaws said.

"The main takeaway message is that if mothers are exposed to phthalates during their pregnancy, it can interfere with the female offspring's ability to make normal levels of hormones," Flaws said. "We saw that the mixture can inhibit the expression of important genes that are involved in making hormones.

The researchers now collaborating with other researchers in the EIRH theme to see whether male offspring are similarly affected and to see whether phthalate exposure affects other female reproductive organs. They will also investigate whether these changes get passed on to subsequent generations. "We need to better understand the mechanism of these changes," Flaws said. "We are interested in looking at whether these chemicals can increase tissue inflammation or whether they can affect other body parts such as the uterus, the hypothalamus, and the pituitary."

Flaws is grateful to all the undergraduate researchers who performed the experiments: Sarah Gill, Kathleen Leon, and Justin Chiu. The other authors include Emily Brehm, a former graduate student, and Daryl Meling, a former postdoctoral fellow.

More information: Sarah Gill et al, Prenatal exposure to an environmentally relevant phthalate mixture alters ovarian steroidogenesis and folliculogenesis in the F1 generation of adult female mice, Reproductive Toxicology (2021). DOI: 10.1016/j.reprotox.2021.09.013

Citation: Prenatal exposure to phthalates damages reproductive tissue in female mice (2021, December 15) retrieved 25 May 2024 from
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.

Explore further

Phthalates may impair fertility in female mice


Feedback to editors