The effect of 2,3,4,7,8-pentachlorodibenzofuran (PnCDF) on the fetal pituitary-gonad axis was compared with that produced by 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD) in Wistar rats. Maternal treatment at gestational day (GD) 15 with PnCDF and TCDD reduced the fetal expression at GD20 of pituitary luteinizing hormone (LH) and the testicular proteins necessary for steroidogenesis. The relative potencies of PnCDF ranged from 1/42nd to 1/63rd of the TCDD effect. While PnCDF, at a dose sufficient to cause a reduction in fetal LH, provoked defects in sexual behavior at adulthood, a dose less than the ED50 failed to produce any abnormality. There was a loss of fetal body weight following in utero exposure to PnCDF, and the effect of PnCDF was also much less than that of TCDD. The disturbance in fetal growth was suggested to be due to a reduction in the level of fetal growth hormone (GH) by dioxins. The disorder caused by PnCDF/TCDD in the fetal pituitary-gonad axis occurred at doses less than those needed to cause wasting syndrome in pubertal rats. The harmful effect of PnCDF relative to TCDD was more pronounced in fetal rats than in pubertal rats. These lines of evidence suggest that: 1) PnCDF as well as TCDD imprints defects in sexual behavior by disrupting the fetal pituitary-gonad axis; 2) these dioxins hinder fetal growth by reducing the expression of fetal GH; and 3) the fetal effects of PnCDF/TCDD are more sensitive than sub-acute toxicity during puberty, and the relative effect of PnCDF varies markedly depending on the indices used.
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