The effects of endocrine disruptors may vary with the timing of exposure. The physiological implications of adult exposure are present during and shortly after exposure while embryonic exposure can imprint changes manifested in adulthood. In this study, guppy (Poecilia reticulata) embryos were exposed to 2 and 20 ng/L of 17α-ethinylestradiol during development via the mother and reared in clean water from gestation until 6 months of age. As adults, fish exposed to 20 ng/L during development showed significantly altered behaviour in the Novel Tank test, where anxiety is determined as the tendency to remain at the bottom upon introduction into an unfamiliar tank. 17α-ethinylestradiol treatment increased the latency time before swimming to the upper half of the tank and decreased the number of transitions to the upper half. In control females the basal stress behaviour responses were significantly higher than in males, as indicated by longer latency period and fewer and shorter visits to the upper half, supporting the importance of gonadal hormones for the behaviour. The anxiety increased, however, with treatment in both sexes, suggesting that the observed response is not entirely due to feminisation of the males. Shoaling behaviour, analysed as tendency to leave a shoal of littermates, was neither sex-differentiated nor changed by treatment. Also male reproductive behaviour, brain aromatase activity and testes histology, previously shown to respond to oestrogen exposure in adult guppy, were unaffected by the developmental treatment. This suggests that the stress system in the guppy is very sensitive to 17α-ethinylestradiol, which possibly causes an early organisational imprint on the brain circuit that regulates stress reactions.
2012. Vol. 178, no 2, 282-90 p.