Effects of developmental exposure to bisphenol A and ethinyl estradiol on spatial navigational learning and memory in painted turtles (Chrysemys picta)

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Abstract

Developmental exposure of turtles and other reptiles to endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs), including bisphenol A (BPA) and ethinyl estradiol (EE2, estrogen present in birth control pills), can induce partial to full gonadal sex-reversal in males. No prior studies have considered whether in ovo exposure to EDCs disrupts normal brain sexual differentiation. Yet, rodent model studies indicate early exposure to these chemicals disturbs sexually selected behavioral traits, including spatial navigational learning and memory. Thus, we sought to determine whether developmental exposure of painted turtles (Chrysemys picta) to BPA and EE2 results in sex-dependent behavioral changes. At developmental stage 17, turtles incubated at 26°C (male-inducing temperature) were treated with 1) BPA High (100 μg /mL), 2) BPA Low (0.01 μg/mL), 3) EE2 (0.2 μg/mL), or 4) vehicle or no vehicle control groups. Five months after hatching, turtles were tested with a spatial navigational test that included four food containers, only one of which was baited with food. Each turtle was randomly assigned one container that did not change over the trial period. Each individual was tested for 14 consecutive days. Results show developmental exposure to BPA High and EE2 improved spatial navigational learning and memory, as evidenced by increased number of times spent in the correct target zone and greater likelihood of solving the maze compared to control turtles. This study is the first to show that in addition to overriding temperature sex determination (TSD) of the male gonad, these EDCs may induce sex-dependent behavioral changes in turtles.

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