Although dioxins and related chemicals have been suspected to disrupt child development, their toxic mechanism remains poorly understood. Our previous studies in rat fetuses revealed that maternal exposure to 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD), a highly-toxic dioxin, suppresses fetal synthesis of pituitary growth hormone (GH) that is essential for development. This study examined the hypothesis that attenuating GH expression in fetuses triggers developmental disorders. Treating pregnant rats with 1 μg/kg TCDD reduced the circulating level of GH and its downstream factor, insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1), in the offspring only during the fetal and early neonatal stages. Although maternal TCDD exposure resulted in low body weight and length at babyhood and defects in the learning and memory ability at adulthood, GH supplementation in TCDD-exposed fetuses restored or tended to restore the defects including IGF-1 downregulation. Moreover, maternal TCDD exposure decreased the number of GH-positive cells during the fetal/neonatal stage. A microarray analysis showed that TCDD reduced the expression of death-associated protein-like 1 (DAPL1), a cell cycle-dependent proliferation regulator, in the fetal pituitary gland. In addition, TCDD treatment attenuated proliferating cells and cyclin mRNA expression in the fetal pituitary gland. Aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AHR)-knockout fetuses were insensitive to TCDD treatment, indicating that the TCDD-induced reduction in DAPL1 and GH mRNAs expression was due to AHR activation. Finally, DAPL1 knockdown suppressed GH and cyclin D2 expression in fetal pituitary cells. These results provide a novel evidence that dioxin suppresses GH-producing cell proliferation and GH synthesis due to partly targeting DAPL1, thereby impairing offspring development.
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