Diethylstilboestrol (DES) exerts several toxic effects in experimental animals, by mechanisms which are still unclear. The genotoxicity of the drug has been attributed to a quinone metabolite and is mainly clastogenic, including sister chromatid exchange, unscheduled DNA synthesis, chromosomal aberrations, disruption of mitotic spindle and aneuploidy. There is evidence that genotoxic effects may occur also transplacentally. Intrauterine and early postnatal exposure to DES can cause a variety of dysplasias. In the offspring of female mice exposed to DES during pregnancy, histological changes are observed in the vaginal and cervical epithelium, the endometrium, the ovary, the testis and the epididymis. Prenatal exposure of rats to DES led to decreased litter size and to urethrovaginal cloaca, penile and testicular hypoplasia, and cryptorchidism. Vaginal ridging, vaginal adenosis, testicular hypoplasia and cryptorchidism have been observed in rhesus monkeys following prenatal exposure. There is sufficient evidence that diethylstilboestrol is carcinogenic in experimental animals, after either prenatal or postnatal exposure. Mice show a similar type of carcinogenicity to that observed in humans, target organs being vagina, cervix, uterus, ovary, mammary gland and testis. In rats, prenatal exposure to DES produces mostly mammary and pituitary tumours, but also some tumours of the vagina. Hamsters develop tumours of vagina, cervix, endometrium, epididymis, testis, liver and kidney. DES induces ovarian papillary carcinomas in dogs, and malignant uterine mesotheliomas in squirrel monkeys. Some experimental evidence points to the possibility of a transgenerational carcinogenic effect, since prenatal treatment of mice with DES is followed by an increased incidence of uterine and ovarian carcinomas in the second-generation descendants.
Experimental results could have been used to predict the adverse effects of DES observed in humans in the early 1970s: DES had been reported to be carcinogenic in mice in the 1930s, while experiments in the 1960s had provided evidence that exposure during pregnancy could result in an increased cancer risk in the progeny.
- Diethylstilboestrol: II, pharmacology, toxicology and carcinogenicity in experimental animals,
NCBI, PMD: 1445734, Eur J Cancer. 1992;29A(1):149-55.
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