March 8, 2005
A new study by Tulane University researchers, published in the March edition of Molecular Endocrinology, provides insight into one of the ways diethylstilbesterol (DES) may alter the development of the uterus. DES, a synthetic estrogen, was prescribed to prevent miscarriage in many women who were pregnant between 1941 until 1971.
In 1971, DES was banned in the United States due to concerns about the occurrence of cancer and infertility in the daughters of women who took it.
"Several millions of pregnant women were treated with DES and we have continued to study and model the disease since it provides unique insights into what estrogenic chemicals may do to the developing fetus," says study co-author John McLachlan, director of the Center for Bioenvironmental Research at Tulane and Xavier Universities.
"There are other chemicals in our environment -- the results of industrial, agriculture and chemical processing -- that, while their estrogenic affect is weaker, may affect developing embryos in the same way. We need models to understand the cellular and genetic mechanisms by which environmental chemicals work. This study is a step in that direction."
Exposing a newborn mouse to DES may interfere with the proper development of the uterus, say Tulane University researchers. In this study, the scientists provide evidence that exposure to DES early in life can change the way genes are expressed in the uterus of mice long after the chemical treatment is stopped.
This work is on the cutting edge of an area of scientific research called genetic imprinting, say the researchers.
"The results of this study and those from other labs suggest that some diseases seen in adults may have started with exposure to chemicals while in the womb," McLachlan says. "This is a whole new kind of birth defect."
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