This paper reviews 22 published field studies that have found an association between exposure to environmental contaminants and alterations in thyroid gland structure, circulating thyroid hormones and vitamin A (retinoid) status in free-ranging populations of wildlife and fish. Vitamin A and thyroid hormones play critical roles during development, growth and function throughout life. Studies of captive wildlife and laboratory studies support a relationship between alterations in thyroid hormones and vitamin A status and exposure to dioxins, furans, and planar polychlorinated biphenyls, which bind to the aryl hydrocarbon receptor. Some studies have found adverse health effects in wildlife associated with exposure to polyhalogenated aromatic hydrocarbons and altered thyroid and retinoid status including: decreased reproductive success, immune system changes, dermatologic abnormalities and developmental deformities. A direct causal relationship between these effects and thyroid and retinoid changes has not been demonstrated. Field researchers studying the responses to these synthetic chemicals in wildlife and fish should include measurement of thyroid hormones and retinoids and histological examination of the thyroid gland in their study design as biomarkers of exposure to these chemicals in the environment.
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Vol. 36 • No. 4