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Synthetic progestins are widely used as a component in both contraceptives and in hormone replacement therapy (HRT), both on their own and in combination with EE2. Their presence in the environment is now established in wastewater effluent and river water and this has led to concerns regarding their potential effects on aquatic organisms living in these waters. We carried out in vivo experiments to determine the potencies of four different synthetic progestins on the reproductive capabilities of the fathead minnow (Pimephales promelas). We then performed a series of in vitro assays to try and determine the reason for the effects seen in the in vivo experiments. In the first experiment, fathead minnow exposed to a single concentration of 100 ng/L of either Levonorgestrel or Gestodene stopped spawning almost completely. The same nominal concentration of Desogestrel and Drospirenone did not affect reproduction (21 d NOECs of 100 ng/L). The second experiment investigated two progestins of different potency: Gestodene at 1, 10, and 100 ng/L and Desogestrel at 100 ng/L, 1 μg/L, and 10 μg/L. Gestodene concentrations as low as 1 ng/L had significant effects on reproduction over 21 d, whereas concentrations of Desogestrel at or above 1 μg/L were required to significantly reduce egg production. The synthetic progestins also masculinized the female fish in a concentration-dependent manner. Results from yeast-based in vitro assays demonstrated that the progestins are all strongly androgenic, thereby explaining the masculinization effects. The results strongly suggest that synthetic progestins merit serious consideration as environmental pollutants.


Tamsin J Runnalls, Nicola Beresford, Erin Losty, Alexander P Scott, John P Sumpter. Several synthetic progestins with different potencies adversely affect reproduction of fish. Environmental science & technology. 2013 Feb 19;47(4):2077-84

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PMID: 23360115

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