Gender differences in the induction of chromosomal aberrations and gene mutations in rodent germ cells

Ilse-Dore Adler, Angelo Carere, Ursula Eichenlaub-Ritter, Francesca Pacchierotti

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Germ cell mutagenicity testing provides experimental data to quantify genetic risk for exposed human populations. The majority of tests are performed with exposure of males, and female data are relatively rare. The reason for this paucity lies in the differences between male and female germ cell biology. Male germ cells are produced throughout reproductive life and all developmental stages can be ascertained by appropriate breeding schemes. In contrast, the female germ cell pool is limited, meiosis begins during embryogenesis and oocytes are arrested over long periods of time until maturation processes start for small numbers of oocytes during the oestrus cycle in mature females. The literature data are reviewed to point out possible gender differences of germ cells to exogenous agents such as chemicals or ionizing radiation. From the limited information, it can be concluded that male germ cells are more sensitive than female germ cells to the induction of chromosomal aberrations and gene mutations. However, exceptions are described which shed doubt on the extrapolation of experimental data from male rodents to the genetic risk of the human population. Furthermore, the female genome may be more sensitive to mutation induction during peri-conceptional stages compared to the male genome of the zygote. With few exceptions, germ cell experiments have been carried out under high acute exposure to optimize the effects and to compensate for the limited sample size in animal experiments. Human exposure to environmental agents, on the other hand, is usually chronic and involves low doses. Under these conditions, gender differences may become apparent that have not been studied so far. Additionally, data are reviewed that suggest a false impression of safety when responses are negative under high acute exposure of male rodents while a mutational response is induced by low chronic exposure. The classical (morphological) germ cell mutation tests are not performed anymore because they are animal and time consuming. Nevertheless, information is needed to place genetic risk extrapolations on more solid grounds and thereby to prevent an increased genetic burden to future generations. It is pointed out that modern molecular methodologies are available now to experimentally address the open questions. © 2006 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)37 - 45
Number of pages9
JournalEnvironmental Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - May 2007
Externally publishedYes


All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biochemistry
  • Environmental Science(all)

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