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Environmental Health Perspective



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Over the last decade, research has examined the endocrine-disrupting action of various environmental pollutants, including hormones, pharmaceuticals, and surfactants, in sewage treatment plant effluent. Responding to the growth of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and the pollutants present in their wastewater (e.g., nutrients, pharmaceuticals, and hormones), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency developed a new rule that tightens the regulation of CAFOs. In this study, we collected wild fathead minnows (Pimephales promelas) exposed to feedlot effluent (FLE) and observed significant alterations in their reproductive biology. Male fish were demasculinized (having lower testicular testosterone synthesis, altered head morphometrics, and smaller testis size). Defeminization of females, as evidenced by a decreased estrogen:androgen ratio of in vitro steroid hormone synthesis, was also documented. We did not observe characteristics in either male or female fish indicative of exposure to environmental estrogens. Using cells transfected with the human androgen receptor, we detected potent androgenic responses from the FLE. Taken together, our morphologic, endocrinologic, and in vitro gene activation assay data suggest two hypotheses: a) there are potent androgenic substance(s) in the FLE, and/or b) there is a complex mixture of androgenic and estrogenic substances that alter the hypothalamic–pituitary–gonadal axis, inhibiting the release of gonadotropin-releasing hormone or gonadotropins. This is the first study demonstrating that the endocrine and reproductive systems of wild fish can be adversely affected by FLE. Future studies are needed to further investigate the effects of agricultural runoff and to identify the biologically active agents, whether natural or pharmaceutical in origin.


Published in Environmental Health Perspective 112:353–358 (2004). Copyright © 2004, Environmental Health Perspective. Used by permission.