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Reproductive and perinatal principles in toxicology are derived from many areas of basic science and are applied to many aspects of clinical practice. This chapter reviews several principles of reproductive medicine that have implications for toxicology: the physiology of pregnancy and placental xenobiotic transfer, the effects of xenobiotics on the developing fetus and the neonate, and the management of overdose in the pregnant woman.


One of the most dramatic effects of exposure to a xenobiotic during pregnancy is the birth of a child with congenital malformations. Teratology, the study of birth defects, has principally been concerned with the study of physical malformations. A broader view of teratology includes "developmental" teratogens—agents that induce structural malformations, metabolic or physiologic dysfunction, or psychological or behavioral alterations or deficits in the offspring, either at or after birth.245 Only 4% to 6% of birth defects are related to known pharmaceuticals or occupational and environmental exposures.41,245


Reproductive effects of xenobiotics may occur before conception. Female germ cells are formed in utero; adverse effects from xenobiotic exposure can theoretically occur from the time of a woman's own intrauterine development to the end of her reproductive years. An example of a xenobiotic that had both teratogenic and reproductive effects is diethylstilbestrol (DES), which caused vaginal and/or cervical adenocarcinoma in some women who had been exposed to DES in utero and also had effects on fertility and pregnancy outcome.23,31


Men generally receive less attention with respect to reproductive risks. Male gametes are formed after puberty; only from that time on are they susceptible to xenobiotic injury. An example of a toxin affecting male reproduction is dibromochloropropane, which reduces spermatogenesis and, consequently, fertility. In general, much less is known about the paternal contribution to teratogenesis.301


Occupational exposures to xenobiotics are potentially important but are often poorly defined. In 2004, it was estimated that there were 41 million women of reproductive age in the workforce.281 Although approximately 90,000 chemicals are used commercially in the United States, only a few thousand industrial and pharmaceutic agents have been specifically evaluated for reproductive toxicity. Many xenobiotics have teratogenic effects when tested in animal models, but relatively few well-defined human teratogens have been identified (Table 30–1).256 Thus, most tested xenobiotics do not appear to present a human teratogenic risk, but most xenobiotics have not been tested. Some of the presumed safe xenobiotics may have other reproductive, nonteratogenic toxicities. Several excellent reviews and online resources are available.93,209,218,219,245,256

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Table 30–1. Known and Probable Human Teratogens

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