In utero exposure to low doses of environmental pollutants disrupts fetal ovarian development in sheep

Paul A. Fowler, Natalie J. Dorà, Helen McFerran, Maria R. Amezaga, David W. Miller, Richard G. Lea, Phillip Cash, Alan S. McNeilly, Neil P. Evans, Corinne Cotinot, Richard M. Sharpe, Stewart M. Rhind

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

104 Citations (Scopus)


Epidemiological studies of the impact of environmental chemicals on reproductive health demonstrate consequences of exposure but establishing causative links requires animal models using 'real life' in utero exposures. We aimed to determine whether prolonged, low-dose, exposure of pregnant sheep to a mixture of environmental chemicals affects fetal ovarian development. Exposure of treated ewes (n = 7) to pollutants was maximized by surface application of processed sewage sludge to pasture. Control ewes (n = 10) were reared on pasture treated with inorganic fertilizer. Ovaries and blood were collected from fetuses (n = 15 control and n = 8 treated) on Day 110 of gestation for investigation of fetal endocrinology, ovarian follicle/oocyte numbers and ovarian proteome. Treated fetuses were 14% lighter than controls but fetal ovary weights were unchanged. Prolactin (48% lower) was the only measured hormone significantly affected by treatment. Treatment reduced numbers of growth differentiation factor (GDF9) and induced myeloid leukaemia cell differentiation protein (MCL1) positive oocytes by 25-26% and increased pro-apoptotic BAX by 65% and 42% of protein spots in the treated ovarian proteome were differently expressed compared with controls. Nineteen spots were identified and included proteins involved in gene expression/transcription, protein synthesis, phosphorylation and receptor activity. Fetal exposure to environmental chemicals, via the mother, significantly perturbs fetal ovarian development. If such effects are replicated in humans, premature menopause could be an outcome.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)269-280
Number of pages12
JournalMolecular Human Reproduction
Issue number5
Early online date23 Apr 2008
Publication statusPublished - May 2008


  • environmental chemicals
  • fetal development
  • oocyte
  • granulosa cell
  • sewage sludge


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