Steroid hormones in multiple tissues of East Greenland polar bears (Ursus maritimus)
Normal sexual development and subsequent reproductive function are dependent on appropriate testosterone production and action. The regulation of steroid hormones, including androgens, can be influenced by both biological and environmental factors, including environmental chemicals. Concentrations of organochlorines are considerably greater in Svalbard polar bears than in polar bears from other regions. Between 1995 and 1998, samples were collected from 121 male polar bears (Ursus maritimus) from the Svalbard area. In this study, testosterone concentration variations were described for male polar bears during different seasons and for all age groups. To study possible relationships between plasma testosterone concentrations and biological factors, such as age, axial girth, and extractable plasma fat, and organochlorine contaminants including hexachlorocyclohexanes, hexachlorobenzene, chlordanes, p,p'-DDE, and 16 individual polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) congeners, identical statistical analyses were performed on the total population and a subsample of reproductively active adults. Of the biological factors, axial girth showed a significant positive relationship and percentage extractable fat and a significant negative relationship with the testosterone concentrations. Both the epsilon pesticides and epsilon PCBs made significant negative contributions to the variation of the plasma testosterone concentration. The continuous presence of high concentrations of organochlorines in male polar bears throughout their life could possibly aggravate any reproductive toxicity that may have occurred during fetal and early postnatal development.