Environmental signaling: what embryos and evolution teach us about endocrine disrupting chemicals

Endocrine Reviews
John A McLachlan

Abstract

The term "endocrine disrupting chemicals" is commonly used to describe environmental agents that alter the endocrine system. Laboratories working in this emerging field-environmental endocrine research-have looked at chemicals that mimic or block endogenous vertebrate steroid hormones by interacting with the hormone's receptor. Environmental chemicals known to do this do so most often with receptors derived from the steroid/thyroid/retinoid gene family. They include ubiquitous and persistent organochlorines, as well as plasticizers, pharmaceuticals, and natural hormones. These chemicals function as estrogens, antiestrogens, and antiandrogens but have few, if any, structural similarities. Therefore, receptor-based or functional assays have the best chance of detecting putative biological activity of environmental chemicals. Three nuclear estrogen receptor forms-alpha, beta, and gamma-as well as multiple membrane forms and a possible mitochondrial form have been reported, suggesting a previously unknown diversity of signaling pathways available to estrogenic chemicals. Examples of environmental or ambient estrogenization occur in laboratory experiments, zoo animals, domestic animals, wildlife, and humans. Environmentally estrogen...Continue Reading

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