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Environ Health Perspect. 1995 October; 103(Suppl 7): 157–164.
PMCID: PMC1518862
Research Article

Organization versus activation: the role of endocrine-disrupting contaminants (EDCs) during embryonic development in wildlife.


Many environmental contaminants disrupt the vertebrate endocrine system. Although they may be no more sensitive to endocrine-disrupting contaminants (EDCs) than other vertebrates, reptiles are good sentinels of exposure to EDCs due to the lability in their sex determination. This is exemplified by a study of alligators at Lake Apopka, Florida, showing that EDCs have altered the balance of reproductive hormones resulting in reproductive dysfunction. Such alterations may be activationally or organizationally induced. Much research emphasizes the former, but a complete understanding of the influence of EDCs in nature can be generated only after consideration of both activational and organizational alterations. The organizational model suggests that a small quantity of an EDC, administered during a specific period of embryonic development, can permanently modify the organization of the reproductive, immune, and nervous systems. Additionally, this model helps explain evolutionary adaptations to naturally occurring estrogenic compounds, such as phytoestrogens.

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