Phthalate exposure in association with serum hormone levels, sperm DNA damage and spermatozoa apoptosis: A cross-sectional study in China

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Exposure to phthalates has been demonstrated to cause reproductive toxicity in animals, but evidence of the association between phthalates and markers of male reproductive function have been inconsistent in human studies. Here we examined whether environmental exposure to phthalates contributes to altered reproductive hormone levels, sperm DNA damage and spermatozoa apoptosis in a Chinese population. From March to June 2013, repeated urine samples collected from male partners of couples attending an infertility clinic in Wuhan, China were analyzed for 8 phthalate metabolites. Associations of the urinary phthalate metabolites with serum hormone levels (n=483), sperm DNA damage parameters (n=509) and spermatozoa apoptosis measures (n=467) were assessed using multivariable linear regression models. After adjusting for potential confounders, mono-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (MEHP), a metabolite of di-(2-ethylhexyl)-phthalate (DEHP), was inversely associated with serum levels of estradiol, total testosterone (T) and free T (all P for trend<0.05). Additionally, we found positive dose-response relationships between the percentage of DEHP metabolites excreted as MEHP (%MEHP) and percentages of tail DNA (P for trend<0.05) and between three metabolites of DEHP [MEHP, mono(2-ethyl-5-hydroxyhexyl) phthalate (MEHHP) and mono(2-ethyl-5-oxohexyl) phthalate (MEOHP)] and percentages of Annexin V+/PI− spermatozoa (all P for trend<0.05). Our findings strengthen the emerging evidence that exposure to DEHP may alter hormone levels, disrupt sperm DNA integrity and induce spermatozoa apoptosis.

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