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Helgoland Marine Research

Open Access

TBT-induced imposex in marine neogastropods is mediated by an increasing androgen level

  • C. Bettin1,
  • J. Oehlmann2 and
  • E. Stroben1
Helgoländer Meeresuntersuchungen50:BF02367105


Tributyltin (TBT) exposure at different concentrations (5, 60, and 100 ng TBT as Sn/l) induces a concentration- and time-dependent imposex (=pseudohermaphroditism) development in femaleNucella lapillus andHinia reticulata. In both species the average imposex stage, termed as vas deferens sequence (VDS) index, and the average female penis length increases with increasing TBT concentration and duration of TBT exposure. Testosterone added at a concentration of 500 ng/l induces a faster and more intensive imposex development compared to that induced by the TBT concentrations used in the present experiments. Radioimmunological determination of endogenous steroid content reveals increasing testosterone titres in female gastropods exposed to TBT which correlate with the TBT concentration used and the duration of the experiment. The most marked and highest increase of the endogenous testosterone level is exhibited by females, of both species exposed to testosterone. Simulataneous exposure to TBT and to the antiandrogen cyproterone acetate which suppresses imposex development completely inN. lapillus and reduces imposex development strongly inH. reticulata proves that the imposex-inducing effects of TBT are mediated by an increasing androgen level and are not caused directly by the organotin compound itself. Further-more, TBT-induced imposex development can be suppressed in both snails by adding estrogens to the aqueous medium. These observations suggest that TBT causes an inhibition of the cytochrome P-450 dependent aromatase system which catalyses the aromatization of androgens to estrogens. The increase of the androgen content or the shift of the androgen-estrogen balance in favour of androgens induces the development of pseudohermaphroditism in marine prosobranchs. Artificial inhibition of the cytochrome P-450 dependent aromatase system using SH 489 (1-methyl-1,4-androstadiene-3,17-dione) as a steroidal aromatase inhibitor and flavone as a nonsteroidal aromatase inhibitor induces imposex development inN. lapillus as well as inH. reticulata.


TestosteroneAromatase InhibitorCyproteroneCyproterone AcetatePseudohermaphroditism