There has been increasing interest, both at the scientific and regulatory level, in the use of ethological methods for evaluating neural effects of endocrine disrupters. We present a series of ethological studies on the effects of maternal exposure to low, environmentally relevant doses (0.02, 0.2, and 2 μg/g mother bw/day) of the estrogenic pesticide methoxychlor (MXC) on behavior. From gestation day 11 to 17, female mice spontaneously drank oil with or without MXC; their maternal behavior was examined from postpartum days 2 to 15. MXC treatment during pregnancy produced slight changes in the expression of maternal behavior: females fed the lower MXC dose spent less time nursing the pups as compared to control dams. Their maternally exposed offspring were subjected to a series of behavioral tests at different ages. Maternal exposure to MXC affected behavioral responses to novelty in both sexes at periadolescence. The onset of male intrasex aggression was delayed in males prenatally exposed to low doses of MXC, since exposed males showed low levels of aggressive interactions during early adolescence but not after they reached adulthood. When adults, MXC-exposed females, but not males showed increased exploration in an unfamiliar open-field. While a sex difference was observed in the control group, with males being significantly more active in the open field than females, prenatal treatment with some MXC doses tended to decrease the sexual dimorphism in activity levels in the novel environment. Ethology, as the evolutionary study of behavior, may provide a framework for integrating a functional perspective (i.e., evolutionary significance) to studies on proximate mechanisms that can account for behavioral alterations induced by developmental exposure to endocrine disrupters. © 2002 Elsevier Science Inc. All rights reserved.
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