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Pure Appl. Chem., 2003, Vol. 75, No. 11-12, pp. 2275-2286

Contaminant-induced endocrine and reproductive alterations in reptiles

L. J. Guillette, Jr. and Taisen Iguchi

Department of Zoology, 223 Bartram Hall, P.O.Box 118525, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611, USA; Department of Bioenvironmental Research, Center for Integrative Bioscience, National Institute of Basic Biology, Okazaki National Research Institutes, 38 Nishigonaka, Myodaiji, Okazaki 444-8585, Japan

Many chemicals introduced into the environment by humans adversely affect embryonic development and the functioning of the vertebrate reproductive system. It has been hypothesized that many developmental alterations are due to the endocrine-disruptive effects of various environmental contaminants. The endocrine system exhibits an organizational effect on the developing embryo, altering gene expression and dosing. Thus, a disruption of the normal hormonal signals can permanently modify the organization and future functioning of the reproductive and endocrine system. We have worked extensively with contaminant-exposed and reference populations of the American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) as well as performed a number of experimental studies exposing developing embryos to various persistent and nonpersistent pesticides. Using this species, we have described altered steroidogenesis, circulating hormone levels, and hepatic transformation of androgen and endocrine organ (gonad, thyroid) morphology in juvenile alligators living in polluted environments. Given the adverse observations reported to date, we recommend several important future needs:
  1. Further development of "receptor zoos" and other molecular tools that include key reptiles from various major ecosystems, in addition to freshwater ecosystems.
  2. Global studies extending the current knowledge base on crocodilians and freshwater turtles to comparable ecosystems on other continents, such as linked studies examining and extending current molecular to population level studies in Florida (USA) to tropical and temporate regions of Africa, Australia, and South America.
  3. Further studies of actual exposure, assimilation and excretion of contaminants by ectothermic vertebrates, especially reptiles that occupy high levels of the food chain.