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Pure Appl. Chem., 2003, Vol. 75, No. 11-12, pp. 2125-2141

Significance of experimental studies for assessing adverse effects of endocrine-disrupting chemicals

L. E. Gray, Jr. and P. M. D. Foster

2525 Highway 54, MD 72, NHEERL, Endocrinology Branch, Reproductive Toxicology Division, ORD, USEPA, Research Triangle Park, NC 27711, USA; Environmental Toxicology Program, NIEHS, MD E1-06, 111 TW Alexander Drive, Research Triangle Park, NC 27709, USA

Abstract: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) is developing an endocrine disruptor screening and testing program to detect chemicals that alter hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal (HPG) function, estrogen, androgen, and thyroid (EAT) hormone synthesis or metabolism and induce androgen (AR) and estrogen (ER) receptor-mediated effects in mammals and other animals. The utility of this approach is based upon the knowledge that mechanisms of endocrine-disrupting chemical (EDC) action are highly conserved at the cellular and molecular levels among vertebrates. Some EDC mechanisms also are shared with invertebrates. High-priority chemicals would be evaluated in a Tier 1 screening (T1S) battery, and chemicals that are positive in T1S would then be tested in Tier 2 (T2). T1S includes in vitro ER and AR receptor binding and/or gene expression, an assessment of steroidogenesis and mammalian (rat) and nonmammalian (fish) in vivo assays. In vivo, the uterotropic assay detects estrogens and antiestrogens, while steroidogenesis, antithyroid activity, antiestrogenicity, and HPG function are assessed in a pubertal female assay. Antiandrogens are detected in the Hershberger assay (weight of androgen-dependent tissues in castrate-immature-male rats). Fish and amphibian assays are also being developed to identify EDCs. Several alternative mammalian in vivo assays have been proposed. Of these, a short-term pubertal male rat assay appears most promising. T1S is designed to be sensitive to EAT activities, but many of the effects detected at the screening level would not be considered adverse, the dosage levels may be high, and the route of administration used may not be the most relevant. However, issues of adversity, dose response, and route(s) of exposure would be resolved in the testing phase. In addition to using an enhanced multigenerational test for Tier 2, an in utero-lactational screening protocol is also being evaluated by USEPA for use in T2 or T1S. For T2, the numbers of endocrine-sensitive end-points and offspring (F1) examined in multigenerational tests need to be expanded for EDCs in a thoughtful manner, based in part upon the results of T1S. In addition, for some chemicals histological examination of 10 adult F1 per sex in only the control and high-dose groups provides inadequate statistical power to detect low-dose lesions induced during development. In these cases, we propose that all the offspring be examined after puberty for gross and histological reproductive abnormalities. Since EDCs, like the phthalates and AR-antagonists, produce characteristic profiles, or syndromes, of adverse effects, data need to be reported in a manner that clearly identifies the proportion of animals displaying one or more of the abnormalities in a syndrome. Consideration should be given to tailoring T2, based on the results of T1S to assure that all of the effects in such chemically induced developmental syndromes are included in the study.