Using the baboon as a model for studies of human reproductive biology, we previously showed that placental estrogen regulates fetal ovarian follicle development. In this study, offspring of baboons untreated or treated in utero with the aromatase inhibitor letrozole (estradiol reduced >95%) or letrozole and estradiol were reared to adulthood to determine whether estrogen programming of the fetal ovary impacted puberty and reproduction in adulthood. All offspring exhibited normal growth and blood pressure/chemistries. Puberty onset in untreated baboons (43.2 ± 1.4 mo) was delayed (P < 0.01) in animals of letrozole-treated mothers (49.0 ± 1.2 mo) and normal in offspring of mothers treated with letrozole and estradiol (42.7 ± 0.8 mo). During the first 2 yr postmenarche, menstrual cycles in estrogen-suppressed animals (43.2 ± 1.3 days) were longer (P < 0.05) than in untreated baboons (38.3 ± 0.5 days) or those treated with letrozole and estrogen (39.6 ± 0.8 days). Moreover, in estrogen-suppressed offspring, serum levels of estradiol were lower and follicle-stimulating hormone greater (P < 0.05) in the follicular and luteal phases, and the elevation in luteal-phase progesterone extended (P < 0.02). Thus, puberty onset was delayed and menstrual cycles prolonged and associated with altered serum hormone levels in baboon offspring that developed in an intrauterine environment in which estradiol levels were suppressed. Because puberty and follicle development, as shown previously, were normal in baboons treated in utero with letrozole and estradiol, we propose that fetal ovarian development and timely onset of puberty in the primate is programmed by fetal exposure to placental estrogen.
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Vol. 89 • No. 6