Over the past several years, there has been increasing concern that chemicals and pesticides found in the environment may mimic endogenous estrogens, potentially producing adverse effects in wildlife and human populations. Because estrogenicity is one of the primary concerns, a 90- day/one-generation reproduction study with 17β-estradiol was designed to set dose levels for future multigenerational reproduction and combined chronic toxicity/oncogenicity studies. The purpose of these studies is to evaluate the significance of a range of responses as well as to provide benchmark data for a risk assessment for chemicals with estrogen-like activities. This 90- day/one-generation reproduction study was conducted in male and female Crl:CD BR rats using dietary concentrations of 0, 0.05, 2.5, 10, and 50 ppm 17β- estradiol. Endpoints were chosen in order to evaluate both subchronic and reproductive toxicity. In addition, several mechanistic/biochemical endpoints were evaluated for their usefulness in follow-up studies. In the P1 generation, dietary administration of 2.5, 10, and 50 ppm 17β-estradiol produced dose-dependent decreases in body weight, body weight gain, food consumption, and food efficiency. At 10 and 50 ppm 17β-estradiol, minimal to mild nonregenerative anemia, lymphopenia, decreased serum cholesterol (50 ppm only), and altered splenic lymphocyte subtypes were also observed in the P1 generation. Additionally, at these concentrations, there were changes in the weights of several organs. Evidence of ovarian malfunction, characterized by reduced numbers of corpora lutea and large antral follicles, was observed at 2.5 ppm 17β-estradiol and above. Other pathologic changes in males and females fed 10 and 50 ppm 17β-estradiol included centrilobular hepatocellular hypertrophy; diffuse hyperplasia of the pituitary gland; feminization of the male mammary glands; mammary gland hyperplasia in females; increased number of cystic follicles in the ovary; hypertrophy of the endometrium and endometrial glands in the uterus; degeneration of seminiferous epithelium; and atrophy of the testes and the accessory sex glands. In the reproduction portion of this study, rats fed 10 or 50 ppm 17β-estradiol did not produce litters. While there was no evidence that the 50 ppm treated rats mated, 33.3% of the rats fed 10 ppm mated but did not produce litters. No effects on mating and fertility indices were observed in rats fed 0.05 and 2.5 ppm 17β-estradiol. Pup weights at birth were statistically decreased relative to control in the groups fed 0.05 and 2.5 ppm 17β-estradiol. Weights of the rats in the 0.05 ppm group recovered by postnatal day 4 and remained similar to control throughout the remainder of the study. The mean gestation length of the 0.05 ppm group was slightly, albeit not statistically significantly, shorter (0.5 days) than that of the control group, which may have contributed to the decrease in birth weight of the 0.05 ppm group. In contrast, the weights of the F1 generation rats fed 2.5 ppm 17β-estradiol remained decreased relative to the control group throughout the study. Parental administration of 17β-estradiol did not alter anogenital distance in male or female pups. The onset of sexual maturation, as measured by day of preputial separation in males and day of vaginal opening in females, was delayed in male rats fed 2.5 ppm (by 8.2 days) and was hastened in female rats fed 0.05 and 2.5 ppm (by 1.6 and 8.8 days, respectively). The age at vaginal opening ranged from 26 to 37, 26 to 35, and 21 to 25 days for rats fed 0, 0.05, and 2.5 ppm 17β-estradiol, respectively. Hence, the range of age at vaginal opening was similar between the control and 0.05 ppm group. The organ weight and pathologic alterations observed in the adult F1 generation rats were similar to those observed in the P1 generation rats. However, in some instances the observed effects, such as histopathological findings in the female reproductive organs, were more severe in the F1 generation than in the P1 generation. Apparent differences in sensitivity between the P1 and F1 generations may be explained by the increased daily intake of 17β-estradiol by the young F1 generation rats, in utero exposure, or a combination of both. Dietary administration of 10 and 50 ppm 17β-estradiol clearly exceeded a maximum tolerated dose. Future studies are needed to define the dose-response curve at dietary concentrations below 10 ppm.
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