Humans are simultaneously exposed to several chemicals that act jointly to induce mixture effects. At doses close to or higher than no-observed adverse effect levels, chemicals usually act additively in experimental studies. However, we are lacking knowledge on the importance of exposure to complex real-world mixtures at more relevant human exposure levels. We hypothesised that adverse mixture effects occur at doses approaching high-end human exposure levels. A mixture (Mix) of 14 chemicals at a combined dose of 2.5 mg/kg bw/day was tested in combination with perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA) at doses of 0.0125 (Low PFNA), 0.25 (Mid PFNA) and 5 (High PFNA) mg/kg bw/day by oral administration for 14 days in juvenile male rats. Indication of a toxicokinetic interaction was found, as simultaneous exposure to PFNA and the Mix caused a 2.8-fold increase in plasma PFNA concentrations at Low PFNA. An increase in testosterone and dihydrotestosterone plasma concentrations was observed for Low PFNA + Mix. This effect was considered non-monotonic, as higher doses did not cause this effect. Reduced LH plasma concentrations together with increased androgen concentrations indicate a disturbed pituitary-testis axis caused by the 15-chemical mixture. Low PFNA by itself increased the corticosterone plasma concentration, an effect which was normalised after simultaneous exposure to Mix. This combined with affected ACTH plasma concentrations and down-regulation of 11β HSD mRNA in livers indicates a disturbed pituitary-adrenal axis. In conclusion, our data suggest that mixtures of environmental chemicals at doses approaching high-end human exposure levels can cause a hormonal imbalance and disturb steroid hormones and their regulation. These effects may be non-monotonic and were observed at low doses. Whether this reflects a more general phenomenon that should be taken into consideration when predicting human mixture effects or represents a rarer phenomenon remains to be shown.
- Mixture toxicology
- Pituitary hormones
- Perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA)