Over the last two decades much has been written about the consequences of perinatal dioxin and PCB exposure in humans. In this paper we strive to elucidate the data on puberty in relation to these endocrine disruptive compounds in human populations. Effects in PCB/dioxin-exposed human populations on puberty are seen, not only in highly exposed cohorts, but also in average populations with background exposures. Study showed effects like increased weight, a delay in pubic hair growth and male genital development in boys, sex-hormone homeostasis, reduced penile length, and delayed age at first ejaculation after PCB exposure. Effects seen after dioxin exposure include retarded initiation and stage of breast development in girls, earlier menarche, disruption of sex hormone homeostasis, reduced testicular volume and reduced penile length in boys. The data published by different studies were inconclusive as a result of different methodological setup as well as because of multiple exposure settings. Populations were exposed to different mixtures of dioxin/PCB congeners or mixtures with other endocrine disrupters, and therefore synergistic and antagonistic effects with PCBs and dioxins are possible. Dioxinlike compounds disturb the hormonal balance mainly through interaction with the Ah receptor, which may influence the synthesis of hormones or their transport proteins. However, we have to keep in mind that hormonal balance during puberty could also be altered by disruption of the thyroid homeostasis. Another important possible mechanism is the induction of epigenetic changes or effects on genetic polymorphism. The fact that exposure to background concentrations of dioxin-like compounds and PCBs also has effects on the reproductive development is disconcerting and warrants further research and long term follow-up studies.
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