Complex interrelationships in the signalling of oestrogenic effects mean that environmental oestrogens present in the aquatic environment have the potential to disrupt physiological function in fish in a more complex manner than portrayed in the present literature. Taking a broader approach to investigate the possible effect pathways and the likely consequences of environmental oestrogen exposure in fish, the effects of 17beta-oestradiol (E(2)) were studied on the expression of a suite of genes which interact to mediate growth, development and thyroid and interrenal function (growth hormone GH (gh), GH receptor (ghr ), insulin-like growth factor (IGF-I) (igf1), IGF-I receptor (igf1r ), thyroid hormone receptors-alpha (thra) and -beta (thrb) and glucocorticoid receptor (gr )) together with the expression analyses of sex-steroid receptors and ten other genes centrally involved in sexual development and reproduction in fathead minnow (fhm; Pimephales promelas). Exposure of adult fhm to 35 ng E(2)/l for 14 days induced classic oestrogen biomarker responses (hepatic oestrogen receptor 1 and plasma vitellogenin), and impacted on the reproductive axis, feminising "male" steroidogenic enzyme expression profiles and suppressing genes involved in testis differentiation. However, E(2) also triggered a cascade of responses for gh, ghr, igf1, igf1r, thra, thrb and gr in the pituitary, brain, liver, gonad and gill, with potential consequences for the functioning of many physiological processes, not just reproduction. Molecular responses to E(2) were complex, with most genes showing differential responses between tissues and sexes. For example, igf1 expression increased in brain but decreased in gill on exposure to E(2), and responded in an opposite way in males compared with females in liver, gonad and pituitary. These findings demonstrate the importance of developing a deeper understanding of the endocrine interactions for unravelling the mechanisms of environmental oestrogen action and predicting the likely health consequences.
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