Garbett KA, Ding T, Allison J, Grueter CA, Grueter BA, Osteen KG, Strifert K, Sweatt JD. Synthetic female gonadal hormones alter neurodevelopmental programming and behavior in F offspring. Hormones and behavior. 2020 Dec;126(126). 104848 p. PMID: 32918873 [PubMed]
The increased prevalence of neurodevelopmental disorders during the last half-century led us to investigate the potential for intergenerational detrimental neurodevelopmental effects of synthetic female gonadal hormones, typically used in contraceptive pills. We examined 3 separate cohorts of mice over the span of 2 years, a total of 150 female F mice and over 300 male and female rodents from their F progeny. We demonstrate that F male offsprings of female mice previously exposed to the synthetic estrogen 17α-ethinylestradiol (EE2) in combination with the synthetic progestin Norethindrone, exhibit neurodevelopmental and behavioral differences compared to control mice. Because the EE2 + Norethindrone administration resulted in gene expression changes in the exposed F mice ovaries persisting after the end of treatment, it is likely that the synthetic hormone treatment caused changes in the germline cells and that led to altered neurodevelopment in the offsprings. An altered gene expression pattern was discovered in the frontal cortex of male mice from the first offspring (F) at infancy and an ADHD-like hyperactive locomotor behavior was exhibited in young male mice from the second offspring (F) of female mice treated with contraceptive pill doses of EE2 + Norethindrone prior to pregnancy. The intergenerational neurodevelopmental effects of EE2 + Norethindrone treatment were sex specific, predominantly affecting males. Our observations in mice support the hypothesis that the use of synthetic contraceptive hormones is a potential environmental factor impacting the prevalence of human neurodevelopmental disorders. Additionally, our results indicate that contraceptive hormone drug safety assessments may need to be extended to F offspring.