Perinatal phthalate exposure increases developmental apoptosis in the rat medial prefrontal cortex

Elli P. Sellinger, Victoria R. Riesgo, Amara S. Brinks, Jari Willing, Janice M. Juraska

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Phthalates are a class of endocrine disruptors found in a variety of consumer goods, and offspring can be exposed to these compounds during gestation and lactation. Our laboratory has found that perinatal exposure to an environmentally relevant mixture of phthalates resulted in a decrease in cognitive flexibility and in neuron number in the adult rat medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC). Here, we examine effects of phthalate treatment on prenatal cellular proliferation and perinatal apoptosis in the mPFC. To examine the phthalate effects on cellular proliferation, dams consumed 0, 1, or 5 mg/kg of the phthalate mixture daily from embryonic day 2 (E2) through the day of birth (P0), and on E16 and E17, they were injected with BrdU. The mPFC of offspring was analyzed on P5 and showed a decrease in labelled cells in the phthalate exposed groups. To examine whether changes in BrdU density observed on P5 were due to altered cell survival, cell death was measured on E18, P0, and P5 using a TUNEL assay in a separate cohort of prenatally exposed offspring. There was an increase in TUNEL labelled cells at E18 in the phthalate exposed groups. In the final experiment, dams consumed the phthalate mixture from E2 through P10, at which time mPFC tissue was stained with TUNEL. Phthalate treated subjects showed a higher density of apoptotic cells at P10. These results indicate both pre- and postnatal phthalate exposure increases apoptosis in the male and female rat mPFC. While the impact of phthalates on proliferation cannot be ruled out, these data do not allow for definitive conclusions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)167-173
Number of pages7
StatePublished - Dec 2021


  • BrdU
  • Endocrine disruptor
  • Neurodevelopment
  • Neurotoxicity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Toxicology


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