Walker C. et al.
Perinatal exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) has been shown to affect male reproductive functions. However, the effects on male reproduction of exposure to EDC mixtures at doses relevant to humans have not been fully characterized. In previous studies, we found that in utero exposure to mixtures of the plasticizer di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) and the soy-based phytoestrogen genistein (Gen) induced abnormal testis development in rats. In the present study, we investigated the molecular basis of these effects in adult testes from the offspring of pregnant SD rats gavaged with corn oil or Gen + DEHP mixtures at 0.1 or 10 mg/kg/day. Testicular transcriptomes were determined by microarray and RNA-seq analyses. A protein analysis was performed on paraffin and frozen testis sections, mainly by immunofluorescence. The transcription factor forkhead box protein 3 (FOXA3), a key regulator of Leydig cell function, was identified as the most significantly downregulated gene in testes from rats exposed in utero to Gen + DEHP mixtures. FOXA3 protein levels were decreased in testicular interstitium at a dose previously found to reduce testosterone levels, suggesting a primary effect of fetal exposure to Gen + DEHP on adult Leydig cells, rather than on spermatids and Sertoli cells, also expressing FOXA3. Thus, FOXA3 downregulation in adult testes following fetal exposure to Gen + DEHP may contribute to adverse male reproductive outcomes.