Zearalenone (ZEA) is a mycotoxin commonly found in contaminated livestock feed and human food with levels in the range of ppb and low ppm. It was hypothesized that ZEA, an endocrine disruptor, could affect puberty and early pregnancy. To test this hypothesis, newly weaned (3 weeks old) C57BL/6J female mice were exposed to 0, 0.002, 4, 10, and 40 ppm ZEA and 0.05 ppm diethylstilbestrol (positive control) in phytoestrogen-free AIN-93G diet. Females exposed to 10 and 40 ppm ZEA diets showed earlier onset of vaginal opening. Those treated with 40 ppm ZEA diet also had earlier first copulation plug and irregular estrous cyclicity. At 8 weeks old, all females were mated with untreated stud males on AIN-93G diet during mating. Treatment resumed upon identification of a vaginal plug on gestation day 0.5 (D0.5). Embryo implantation was assessed on D4.5. Exposure to 40 ppm ZEA diet resulted in reduced percentage of plugged mice with implantation sites, distended uterine appearance, and retained expression of progesterone receptor in D4.5 uterine epithelium. To determine the exposure timing and mechanisms of disrupted embryo implantation, four groups of females were fed with 0 or 40 ppm ZEA diets during premating (weaning to mating) and postmating (D0.5-D4.5), respectively. Premating exposure to 40 ppm ZEA diet reduced fertilization rate, whereas postmating exposure to 40 ppm ZEA diet delayed embryo transport and preimplantation embryo development, which subsequently affected embryo implantation. These data demonstrate that postweaning exposure to dietary ZEA can promote premature onset of puberty and disrupt early pregnancy events.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Embryo development
- Embryo implantation
- Embryo transport
- Vaginal opening