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Key Event Title
Nipple retention (NR), increased
|Level of Biological Organization|
Key Event Components
Key Event Overview
AOPs Including This Key Event
|Birth to < 1 month||High|
Key Event Description
In common laboratory strains of rats and mice, females typically have 6 (rats) or 5 (mice) pairs of nipples along the bilateral milk lines. In contrast, male rats and mice do not have nipples. This is unlike e.g., humans where both sexes have 2 nipples (Schwartz et al., 2021).
In laboratory rats, high levels of dihydrotestosterone (DHT) induce regression of the nipples in males (Imperato-McGinley & Gautier, 1986; Kratochwil, 1977; Kratochwil & Schwartz, 1976). Females, in the absence of this DHT surge, retain their nipples. This relationship has also been shown in numerous rat studies with perinatal exposure to anti-androgenic chemicals (Schwartz et al., 2021). Hence, if juvenile male rats and mice possess nipples, it is considered a sign of perturbed androgen action early in life.
This KE was first published by Pedersen et al (2022).
How It Is Measured or Detected
Nipple retention (NR) is visually assessed, ideally on postnatal day (PND) 12/13 (OECD, 2018; Schwartz et al., 2021). However, PND 14 is also an accepted stage of examination (OECD, 2013). Depending on animal strain, the time when nipples become visible can vary, but the assessment of NR in males should be conducted when nipples are visible in their female littermates (OECD, 2013).
Nipples are detected as dark spots (or shadows) called areolae, which resemble precursors to a nipple rather than a fully developed nipple. The dark area may or may not display a nipple bud (Hass et al., 2007). Areolae typically emerge along the milk lines of the male pups corresponding to where female pups display nipples. Fur growth may challenge detection of areolae after PND 14/15. Therefore, the NR assessment should be conducted prior to excessive fur growth. Ideally, all pups in a study are assessed on the same postnatal day to minimize variation due to maturation level (OECD, 2013).
NR is occasionally observed in controls. Hence, accurate assessment of NR in controls is needed to detect substance-induced effects on masculine development (Schwartz et al., 2021). It is recommended by the OECD guidance documents 43 and 151 to record NR as a quantitative number rather than a qualitative measure (present/absent or yes/no response). This allows for more nuanced analysis of results, e.g., high control values may be recognized (OECD, 2013, 2018). Studies reporting quantitative measures of NR are therefore considered stronger in terms of weight of evidence.
Reproducibility of NR results is challenged by the measure being a visual assessment prone to a degree of subjectivity. Thus, NR should be assessed and scored blinded to exposure groups and ideally be performed by the same person(s) within the same study.
Domain of Applicability
The applicability domain of NR is limited to male laboratory strains of rats and mice from birth to juvenile age.
Regulatory Significance of the Adverse Outcome
NR is recognized by the OECD as a relevant measure for anti-androgenic effects and is mandatory in the test guidelines Extended One Generation Reproductive Toxicity Study, TG 443 (OECD, 2018) and the two screening studies for reproductive toxicity, TGs 421/422 (OECD, 2016a, 2016b). The endpoint is also described in the guidance documents 43 (OECD, 2008) and 151 (OECD, 2013). Furthermore, NR data can be used in chemical risk assessment for setting the No Observed Adverse Effect Level (NOAEL) as stated in the OECD guidance document 151 (OECD, 2013): “A statistically significant change in nipple retention should be evaluated similarly to an effect on AGD as both endpoints indicate an adverse effect of exposure and should be considered in setting a NOAEL”.
Hass, U., Scholze, M., Christiansen, S., Dalgaard, M., Vinggaard, A. M., Axelstad, M., Metzdorff, S. B., & Kortenkamp, A. (2007). Combined exposure to anti-androgens exacerbates disruption of sexual differentiation in the rat. Environmental Health Perspectives, 115(suppl 1), 122–128.
Imperato-McGinley, J., Binienda, Z., Gedney, J., & Vaughan, E. D. (1986). Nipple Differentiation in Fetal Male Rats Treated with an Inhibitor of the Enzyme 5α-Reductase: Definition of a Selective Role for Dihydrotestosterone. Endocrinology, 118(1), 132–137.
Kratochwil, K. (1977). Development and Loss of Androgen Responsiveness in the Embryonic Rudiment of the Mouse Mammary Gland. DEVELOPMENTAL BIOLOGY, 61, 358–365.
OECD. (2008). Guidance document 43 on mammalian reproductive toxicity testing and assessment. Environment, Health and Safety Publications, 16(43).
OECD. (2013). Guidance document supporting OECD test guideline 443 on the extended one-generation reproductive toxicity test. Environment, Health and Safety Publications, 10(151).
OECD. (2016a). Test Guideline 421: Reproduction/Developmental Toxicity Screening Test. OECD Guidelines for the Testing of Chemicals, 421. http://www.oecd.org/termsandconditions/
OECD. (2016b). Test Guideline 422: Combined Repeated Dose Toxicity Study with the Reproduction/Developmental Toxicity Screening Test. OECD Guidelines for the Testing of Chemicals, 422. http://www.oecd.org/termsandconditions/
OECD. (2018). Test Guideline 443: Extended one-generation reproductive toxicity study. OECD Guidelines for the Testing of Chemicals, 443. http://www.oecd.org/termsandconditions/
Pedersen, E. B., Christiansen, S., & Svingen, T. (2022). AOP key event relationship report: Linking androgen receptor antagonism with nipple retention. Current Research in Toxicology, 3, 100085.
Schwartz, C. L., Christiansen, S., Hass, U., Ramhøj, L., Axelstad, M., Löbl, N. M., & Svingen, T. (2021). On the Use and Interpretation of Areola/Nipple Retention as a Biomarker for Anti-androgenic Effects in Rat Toxicity Studies. Frontiers in Toxicology, 3, 730752.