Article

Reviews in Endocrine and Metabolic Disorders

, Volume 8, Issue 2, pp 143-159

Estrogenic environmental endocrine-disrupting chemical effects on reproductive neuroendocrine function and dysfunction across the life cycle

  • Sarah M. DickersonAffiliated withDivision of Pharmacology and Toxicology, The University of Texas at Austin
  • , Andrea C. GoreAffiliated withDivision of Pharmacology and Toxicology, The University of Texas at Austin Email author 

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Abstract

Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) are natural or synthetic compounds that interfere with the normal function of an organism’s endocrine system. Many EDCs are resistant to biodegradation, due to their structural stability, and persist in the environment. The focus of this review is on natural and artificial EDCs that act through estrogenic mechanisms to affect reproductive neuroendocrine systems. This endocrine axis comprises the hypothalamic gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH), pituitary gonadotropins, and gonadal steroid hormones, including estrogens. Although it is not surprising that EDCs that mimic or antagonize estrogen receptors may exert actions upon reproductive targets, the mechanisms for these effects are complex and involve all three levels of the hypothalamic–pituitary–gonadal (HPG) system. Nevertheless, considerable evidence links exposure to estrogenic environmental EDCs with neuroendocrine reproductive deficits in wildlife and in humans. The effects of an EDC are variable across the life cycle of an animal, and are particularly potent when exposure occurs during fetal and early postnatal development. As a consequence, abnormal sexual differentiation, disrupted reproductive function, or inappropriate sexual behavior may be detected later in life. This review will cover the effects of two representative classes of estrogenic EDCs, phytoestrogens and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), on neuroendocrine reproductive function, from molecules to behavior, across the vertebrate life cycle. Finally, we identify the gaps of knowledge in this field and suggest future directions for study.

Keywords

Endocrine disruption Environmental estrogen Neuroendocrine function Endocrine disrupting chemical Phytoestrogen Polychlorinated biphenyl