How neonatal plant estrogen exposure leads to adult infertility

May 2, 2012

A paper published today in Biology of Reproduction's Papers-in-Press describes the effects of brief prenatal exposure to plant estrogens on the mouse oviduct, modeling the effects of soy-based baby formula on human infants. The results suggest that exposure to estrogenic chemicals in the womb or during childhood has the potential to affect a woman's fertility as an adult, possibly providing the mechanistic basis for some cases of unexplained female infertility.

Earlier research suggested that neonatal exposure to plant estrogens or other environmental estrogens (synthetic substances that function similarly to the estrogen naturally produced in the body) may have long-term effects on adult female reproductive health. Wendy N. Jefferson, a researcher in the lab of Carmen J. Williams at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), part of the National Institutes of Health, previously demonstrated that neonatal exposure to the plant estrogen genistein results in complete infertility in female adult mice. Causes of infertility included failure to ovulate, reduced ability of the oviduct to support embryo development before implantation, and failure of the uterus to support effective implantation of blastocyst-stage embryos.

The team now reports that neonatal exposure to genistein changes the level of in the mouse oviduct, known as mucosal immune response. Some of the immune response genes were altered beginning from the time of genistein treatment, while others were altered much later, when the mouse was in early pregnancy. Together, those changes led to harmfully altered immune responses and to compromised oviduct support for preimplantation embryo development, both of which would likely contribute to infertility.

These findings raise the possibility that exposure to low levels of environmental or plant estrogens during sensitive developmental windows can alter the balance of the mucosal immune response in the uterus and oviduct.

In the mouse, the window of development during which these changes can occur is found only in the neonatal period; in humans, development of the reproductive tract continues through the onset of puberty. Therefore, estrogenic chemical exposure to the female fetus, infant, child, and adolescent all have potential impacts on mucosal immunity in the reproductive tract and, therefore, on adult fertility. The authors present the view that limiting such exposures, including minimizing use of soy-based baby formula, is a step toward maintaining female reproductive health.

Explore further: Study shows why synthetic estrogens wreak havoc on reproductive system

More information: DOI 10.1095/biolreprod.112.099846

Related Stories

Compounds from soy affect brain and reproductive development

July 31, 2008

Two hormone-like compounds linked to the consumption of soy-based foods can cause irreversible changes in the structure of the brain, resulting in early-onset puberty and symptoms of advanced menopause in research animals, ...

Recommended for you

New method creates endless supply of kidney precursor cells

August 25, 2016

Salk Institute scientists have discovered the holy grail of endless youthfulness—at least when it comes to one type of human kidney precursor cell. Previous attempts to maintain cultures of the so-called nephron progenitor ...

Strict diet combats rare progeria aging disorders

August 25, 2016

Mice with a severe aging disease live three times longer if they eat thirty percent less. Moreover, they age much healthier than mice that eat as much as they want. These are findings of a joint study being published today ...

New avenue for understanding cause of common diseases

August 25, 2016

A ground-breaking Auckland study could lead to discoveries about many common diseases such as diabetes, cancer and dementia. The new finding could also illuminate the broader role of the enigmatic mitochondria in human development.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.