Humans are ubiquitously exposed to di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), which is an environmental toxicant present in common consumer products. DEHP potentially targets the ovary through its metabolite mono(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (MEHP). However, the direct effects of MEHP on ovarian folliculogenesis and steroidogenesis, two processes essential for reproductive and nonreproductive health, are unknown. The present study tested the hypotheses that MEHP directly accelerates early folliculogenesis via overactivation of phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3K) signaling, a pathway that regulates primordial follicle quiescence and activation, and inhibits the synthesis of steroid hormones by decreasing steroidogenic enzyme levels. Neonatal ovaries from CD-1 mice were cultured for 6 days with vehicle control, DEHP, or MEHP (0.2–20 μg/ml) to assess the direct effects on folliculogenesis and PI3K signaling. Further, antral follicles from adult CD-1 mice were cultured with vehicle control or MEHP (0.1–10 μg/ml) for 24–96 h to establish the temporal effects of MEHP on steroid hormones and steroidogenic enzymes. In the neonatal ovaries, MEHP, but not DEHP, decreased phosphatase and tensin homolog levels and increased phosphorylated protein kinase B levels, leading to a decrease in the percentage of germ cells and an increase in the percentage of primary follicles. In the antral follicles, MEHP decreased the mRNA levels of 17alpha-hydroxylase-17,20-desmolase, 17beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase, and aromatase leading to a decrease in testosterone, estrone, and estradiol levels. Collectively, MEHP mediates the effect of DEHP on accelerated folliculogenesis via overactivating PI3K signaling and inhibits steroidogenesis by decreasing steroidogenic enzyme levels.
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Vol. 92 • No. 5