Male reproductive tract abnormalities associated with testicular dysgenesis in humans also occur in male rats exposed gestationally to some phthalate esters. We examined global gene expression in the fetal testis of the rat following in utero exposure to a panel of phthalate esters. Pregnant Sprague-Dawley rats were treated by gavage daily from Gestational Days 12 through 19 with corn oil vehicle (1 ml/kg) or diethyl phthalate (DEP), dimethyl phthalate (DMP), dioctyl tere-phthalate (DOTP), dibutyl phthalate (DBP), diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP), dipentyl phthalate (DPP), or benzyl butyl phthalate (BBP) at 500 mg/kg per day. Testes were isolated on Gestational Day 19, and global changes in gene expression were determined. Of the approximately 30 000 genes queried, expression of 391 genes was significantly altered following exposure to the developmentally toxic phthalates (DBP, BBP, DPP, and DEHP) relative to the control. The developmentally toxic phthalates were indistinguishable in their effects on global gene expression. No significant changes in gene expression were detected in the nondevelopmentally toxic phthalate group (DMP, DEP, and DOTP). Gene pathways disrupted include those previously identified as targets for DBP, including cholesterol transport and steroidogenesis, as well as newly identified pathways involved in intracellular lipid and cholesterol homeostasis, insulin signaling, transcriptional regulation, and oxidative stress. Additional gene targets include alpha inhibin, which is essential for normal Sertoli cell development, and genes involved with communication between Sertoli cells and gonocytes. The common targeting of these genes by a select group of phthalates indicates a role for their associated molecular pathways in testicular development and offers new insight into the molecular mechanisms of testicular dysgenesis.
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