Thyroid Toxicity Due to Subchronic Exposure to a Complex Mixture of 16 Organochlorines, Lead, and Cadmium
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The human population in the industrialized world is ubiquitously exposed to complex mixtures of persistent pollutants that contaminate food, water, and air. A large number of these contaminants have been shown to cause significant toxicity to the hypothalamic-pituitary-thyroid (HPT) axis in laboratory animal studies, through a variety of mechanisms, although these effects occur at levels of exposure greatly in excess of common human exposure. While many of the mechanisms of thyroid toxicity of these substances are potentially complementary, little is known of the degree of interaction of common persistent contaminants on responses of the HPT axis. To investigate the potential effects of a complex, environmentally relevant mixture on the HPT axis, sexually mature male rats were administered a mixture of 16 common organochlorines (dichlorodiphenoxytrichloroethane [DDT], p,p'-dichlorodiphenoxydichloroethylene [p,p'-DDE], hexachlorobenzene [HCB], tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin [TCDD], polychlorinated biphenyls [PCBs], methoxychlor, endosulfan, heptachlor, hexachlorocyclohexane, dieldrin, aldrin, mirex, and several chlorinated benzenes, and metal contaminants [lead, cadmium]). The doses of the mixture that were administered were related to minimum risk levels or tolerable daily intakes of these substances, as derived by risk assessment with the 1x, 10x, 100x, and 1000x groups receiving mixture components at doses equivalent to 1x, 10x, 100x, or 1000x the minimum risk level (or tolerable daily intake, reference dose), respectively. After 70 daily treatments by gavage, endpoints related to circulating thyroid hormone (serum thyroxine [T(4)], triiodothyronine [T(3)], thyroid stimulating hormone [TSH], and serum T(3) uptake [T(3)-up]), thyroid gland histomorphology (thyroid follicle cross sectional area, epithelial height, follicle roundness or aspect ratio, colloid/epithelial ratio) and hepatic metabolism of thyroid hormone (UDP-glucuronyl transferase [UGT] and outer-ring deiodinase [ORD]) were assessed. All examined endpoints were significantly altered by the mixture albeit with great variability between endpoints in the sensitivity. While most endpoints examined did not show significant changes at mixture doses below 1000x, 2 endpoints, TSH and hepatic outer ring deiodinase activity, were significantly increased and decreased, respectively, by 1x dose and showed dose-related increases in severity with increasing dose. Median thyroid follicle cross sectional area was also increased by the lowest dose of the mixture but decreased with subsequent increases in dose until, at the highest dose, this parameter was significantly reduced relative to control. The relative sensitivity of endpoints of thyroid function in detecting toxicity of the mixture was TSH = ORD = median follicle area >> T(3) > all other endpoints. These results demonstrate that low doses of ubiquitous environmental contaminants can alter HPT physiology in sexually mature males.