The effects of chronic lifelong activation of the AHR pathway by industrial chemical pollutants on female human reproduction

Aldo Cavallini, Catia Lippolis, Margherita Vacca, Claudia Nardelli, Alessandra Castegna, Fabio Arnesano, Nicola Carella, Raffaella Depalo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Environmental chemicals, such as heavy metals, affect female reproductive function. A biological sensor of the signals of many toxic chemical compounds seems to be the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AHR). Previous studies demonstrated the environmental of heavy metals in Taranto city (Italy), an area that has been influenced by anthropogenic factors such as industrial activities and waste treatments since 1986. However, the impact of these elements on female fertility in this geographic area has never been analyzed. Thus, in the present study, we evaluated the AHR pathway, sex steroid receptor pattern and apoptotic process in granulosa cells (GCs) retrieved from 30 women, born and living in Taranto, and 30 women who are living in non-contaminated areas (control group), who were undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF) protocol. In follicular fluids (FFs) of both groups the toxic and essential heavy metals, such as chromiun (Cr), Manganese (Mn), iron (Fe), cobalt (Co), nickel (Ni), copper (Cu), zinc (Zn), cadmium (Cd) and lead (Pb), were also analyzed. Higher levels of Cr, Fe, Zn and Pb were found in the FFs of the women from Taranto as compared to the control group, as were the levels of AHR and AHR-dependent cytochrome P450 1A1 and 1B1; while CYP19A1 expression was decreased. The anti-apoptotic process found in the GCs of women fromTaranto was associated with the highest levels of progesterone receptor membrane component 1(PGRMC1), a novel progesterone receptor, the expression of which is subjected to AHR activated by its highest affinity ligands (e.g., dioxins) or indirectly by other environmental pollutants, such as heavy metals. In conclusion, decreased production of estradiol and decreased number of retrieved mature oocytes found in women from Taranto could be due to chronic exposure to heavy metals, in particular to Cr and Pb.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0152181
JournalPLoS One
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 1 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Medicine(all)

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