Study: Prenatal exposure to chemicals damages reproductive tissue

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, personal care products, food and beverage containers, and medical equipment,” said Jodi Flaws, a professor of comparative biosciences. “My research group focuses on how exposure to these environmental chemicals during pregnancy affect the offspring.”

In the study, published in Reproductive Toxicology, 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 hormone levels 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. “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.

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