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Zearalenone (ZEA) is an estrogenic mycotoxin mainly produced as a secondary metabolite by numerous species of Fusarium. Previous work showed that ZEA had a negative impact on domestic animals with regard to reproduction. The adverse effects and the mechanisms of ZEA on mammalian ovarian folliculogenesis remain largely unknown, particularly its effect on primordial follicle formation. Thus, we investigated the biological effects of ZEA exposure on murine ovarian germ cell cyst breakdown and primordial follicle assembly. Our results demonstrated that newborn mouse ovaries exposed to 10 or 30 μM ZEA in vitro had significantly less germ cell numbers compared to the control group. Moreover, the presence of ZEA in vitro increased the numbers of TUNEL and γH2AX positive cells within mouse ovaries and the ratio of mRNA levels of the apoptotic genes Bax/Bcl-2. Furthermore, ZEA exposure reduced the mRNA of oocyte specific genes such as LIM homeobox 8 (Lhx8), newborn ovary homeobox (Nobox), spermatogenesis and oogenesis helix-loop-helix (Sohlh2), and factor in the germline alpha (Figlα) in a dose dependent manner. Exposure to ZEA led to remarkable changes in the Lhx8 3′-UTR DNA methylation dynamics in oocytes and severely impaired folliculogenesis in ovaries after transplantation under the kidney capsules of immunodeficient mice. In conclusion, ZEA exposure impairs mouse primordial follicle formation in vitro.First time to evaluate the impact of ZEA on primordial follicle formationZEA exposure increases oocyte apoptosis and delays germ cell cyst breakdown.ZEA exposure impairs the expression of LHX8 by affecting its DNA methylation.