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Francesca Castiello and Carmen Freire

Background: Numerous modern non-persistent pesticides have demonstrated estrogenic/anti-androgenic activity and have been classified as endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs). Processes involved in puberty development are vulnerable to EDCs, such as compounds that interfere with the metabolism or activity of sex steroids.

Objective: To conduct a systematic review of epidemiological studies on the relationship between early-life exposure to non-persistent pesticides and puberty timing and/or sexual maturation in girls and boys.

Methods: A systematic search was carried out using MEDLINE and SCOPUS databases, including original articles published up to November 2020.

Results: Thirteen studies were selected after excluding non-original and non-human studies. Exposure to different types of pesticides has been associated with altered puberty timing in girls and/or boys in eight studies. In utero exposure to atrazine has been related to earlier age of menarche in girls; exposure to organophosphate (OP) pesticides has been related to delayed sexual development in boys and girls; childhood pyrethroid exposure has been associated with pubertal delay in girls and pubertal advancement in boys; and prenatal/childhood exposure to multiple pesticides has been linked to earlier puberty onset in girls and pubertal delay in boys.

Conclusions: Most of the reviewed studies describe a relationship between pesticide exposure and changes in the age of puberty onset or sex hormone levels, although the quality of the evidence is generally low. Further well-designed longitudinal studies are warranted on specific classes of pesticides and on possible interactions between different types of compounds.