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Abstract Title:

Oestrogenic mycotoxin exposures and precocious pubertal development.

Abstract Source:

Int J Androl. 2010 Apr ;33(2):369-76. Epub 2009 Nov 30. PMID: 20002219

Abstract Author(s):

F Massart, G Saggese

Article Affiliation:

Pediatric Endocrine Center, University of Pisa, Pisa, Italy. massart@med.unipi.it


Since the 1970s, there has been a worldwide scientific discussion on the potential health consequences of human exposure to endocrine disrupters: many environmentally persistent compounds are oestrogen agonists and/or androgen antagonists. Thus, they can dysregulate the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis potentially affecting human puberty timing. Zearalenone (ZEA) is a non-steroidal mycotoxin produced by Fusarium species on several grains. Despite its low acute toxicity and carcinogenicity, ZEA exhibits oestrogenic and anabolic properties in several animal species. ZEA food contamination is caused either by direct contamination of grains, fruits and their based-products or by 'carry-over' of mycotoxins in animal tissues, milk and eggs after intake of contaminated feedstuff. In addition, zeranol (alpha-ZAL), a resorcyl lactone derived from ZEA, has been widely used in the USA as a growth promoter to improve fattening rates in cattle. From 1978 to 1984, a great epidemic of premature thelarche and precocious puberty occurred in Puerto Rico. To explain this condition, it was suggested that dairy and meat products could be contaminated with anabolic oestrogens such as ZEA or alpha-ZAL. Subsequently, worldwide other groups have also reported causative associations between oestrogenic mycotoxins and development of early thelarche and/or precocious puberty in exposed children. In addition to animal data, epidemiological studies strongly support the hypothesis that human pubertal development may be induced by foetal/early or prepubertal exposure to oestrogenic compounds. Indeed, ZEA and its metabolites are able to adopt molecular conformation, which sufficiently resembles 17beta-oestradiol to allow it to bind to oestrogen receptors (ERs) in target cells exerting oestrogenic (agonist) actions. In this view, oestrogenic mycotoxins are suspected as triggering factor for precocious pubertal development at least in prepubertal exposed girls.

Study Type : Review

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