Phthalates are chemicals used in products including plastics, personal care products, and building materials, leading to widespread contact. Previous studies on prenatal exposure to Di-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) in mice and humans demonstrated pubertal timing and reproductive performance could be affected in exposed offspring. However, the impacts at the pituitary, specifically regarding signaling pathways engaged and direct effects on the gonadotropins LH and FSH, are unknown. We hypothesized prenatal exposure to DEHP during a critical period of embryonic development (e15.5 to e18.5) will cause sex-specific disruptions in reproduction-related mRNA expression in offspring's pituitary due to interference with androgen and aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR) signaling. We found that prenatal DEHP exposure in vivo caused a significant increase in Fshb specifically in males, while the anti-androgen flutamide caused significant increases in both Lhb and Fshb in males. AhR target gene Cyp1b1 was increased in both sexes in DEHP-exposed offspring. In embryonic pituitary cultures, the DEHP metabolite MEHP increased Cyp1a1 and Cyp1b1 mRNA in both sexes and Cyp1b1 induction was reduced by co-treatment with AhR antagonist. AhR reporter assay in GHFT1 cells confirmed MEHP can activate AhR signaling. Lhb, Fshb and Gnrhr mRNA were significantly decreased in both sexes by MEHP, but co-treatment with AhR antagonist did not restore mRNA levels in pituitary culture. In summary, our data suggest phthalates can directly affect the function of the pituitary by activating AhR signaling and altering gonadotropin expression. This indicates DEHP's impacts on the pituitary could contribute to reproductive dysfunctions observed in exposed mice and humans.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)18-27
Number of pages10
JournalReproductive Toxicology
StatePublished - Mar 2022


  • AhR
  • DEHP
  • Endocrine-disrupting chemicals
  • Pituitary
  • Reproduction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology


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