The aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR) mediates many of the biological effects of 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD) and transcriptional activation of genes encoding a number of xenobiotic metabolizing enzymes. Prenatal exposure of mice to TCDD causes severe alterations in embryo and fetal development, including hydronephrosis and cleft palate. However, the mechanisms underlying these effects are unclear. In this work, the teratogenicity of TCDD in AhR-null mice was evaluated to determine if this effect is mediated by the AhR. Homozygous wild-type (+/+) or AhR-null (-/-) female mice were mated with males of the same genotype overnight. On gestation day (GD)-10, mice were intubated orally with either corn oil (vehicle control) or 25 μg/kg TCDD. Fetuses were examined on GD18 for visceral and skeletal alterations. For non-TCDD-exposed litters, all developmental endpoints were comparable between genotypes, with the exception of a lower incidence of large interfrontal bones in (-/-) mice. For TCDD- exposed litters, (+/+) fetuses had a significantly greater incidence of cleft palate, hydronephrosis, small kidneys, tortuous ureters and greater dilation of the renal pelves and ureters compared to (-/-) fetuses. Interestingly, an increased resorption rate was observed in (-/-) fetuses exposed to TCDD. Results from this work demonstrate that fetal development per se is generally unaffected by the absence of the AhR or that other genes may have compensated for the loss of the AhR. More importantly, these data indicate that the AhR mediates TCDD-induced teratogenicity. Further, since a higher percentage of resorptions was observed in (-/-) litters from TCDD-treated dams, it is possible that AhR-independent mechanisms contribute to TCDD-induced developmental toxicity.
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