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Toxicology and applied pharmacology

Lessons learned from perinatal exposure to diethylstilbestrol.


PMID 15313586

Abstract

The synthetic estrogen diethylstilbestrol (DES) is well documented to be a perinatal carcinogen in both humans and experimental animals. Exposure to DES during critical periods of differentiation permanently alters the programming of estrogen target tissues resulting in benign and malignant abnormalities in the reproductive tract later in life. Using the perinatal DES-exposed rodent model, cellular and molecular mechanisms have been identified that play a role in these carcinogenic effects. Although DES is a potent estrogenic chemical, effects of low doses of the compound are being used to predict health risks of weaker environmental estrogens. Therefore, it is of particular interest that developmental exposure to very low doses of DES has been found to adversely affect fertility and to increase tumor incidence in murine reproductive tract tissues. These adverse effects are seen at environmentally relevant estrogen dose levels. New studies from our lab verify that DES effects are not unique; when numerous environmental chemicals with weak estrogenic activity are tested in the experimental neonatal mouse model, developmental exposure results in an increased incidence of benign and malignant tumors including uterine leiomyomas and adenocarcinomas that are similar to those shown following DES exposure. Finally, growing evidence in experimental animals suggests that some adverse effects can be passed on to subsequent generations, although the mechanisms involved in these trans-generational events remain unknown. Although the complete spectrum of risks to DES-exposed humans are uncertain at this time, the scientific community continues to learn more about cellular and molecular mechanisms by which perinatal carcinogenesis occurs. These advances in knowledge of both genetic and epigenetic mechanisms will be significant in ultimately predicting risks to other environmental estrogens and understanding more about the role of estrogens in normal and abnormal development.