Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are industrial contaminants and known endocrine-disrupting chemicals. Previous work has shown that gestational exposure to PCBs cause changes in reproductive neuroendocrine processes. Here we extended work farther down the life spectrum and tested the hypothesis that early life exposure to Aroclor 1221 (A1221), a mixture of primarily estrogenic PCBs, results in sexually dimorphic aging-associated alterations to reproductive parameters in rats, and gene expression changes in hypothalamic nuclei that regulate reproductive function. Pregnant Sprague Dawley rats were injected on gestational days 16 and 18 with vehicle (dimethylsulfoxide), A1221 (1 mg/kg), or estradiol benzoate (50 μg/kg). Developmental parameters, estrous cyclicity (females), and timing of reproductive senescence were monitored in the offspring through 9 months of age. Expression of 48 genes was measured in 3 hypothalamic nuclei: the anteroventral periventricular nucleus (AVPV), arcuate nucleus (ARC), and median eminence (females only) by real-time RT-PCR. Serum LH, testosterone, and estradiol were assayed in the same animals. In males, A1221 had no effects; however, prenatal estradiol benzoate increased serum estradiol, gene expression in the AVPV (1 gene), and ARC (2 genes) compared with controls. In females, estrous cycles were longer in the A1221-exposed females throughout the life cycle. Gene expression was not affected in the AVPV, but significant changes were caused by A1221 in the ARC and median eminence as a function of cycling status. Bionetwork analysis demonstrated fundamental differences in physiology and gene expression between cycling and acyclic females independent of treatment. Thus, gestational exposure to biologically relevant levels of estrogenic endocrine-disrupting chemicals has sexually dimorphic effects, with an altered transition to reproductive aging in female rats but relatively little effect in males.
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