Academic journal article Environmental Health Perspectives

Exposure to PCBs and P,p'-DDE and Human Sperm Chromatin Integrity

Academic journal article Environmental Health Perspectives

Exposure to PCBs and P,p'-DDE and Human Sperm Chromatin Integrity

Article excerpt

Persistent organochlorine pollutants (POPs) such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene (p,p'-DDE), the major metabolite of dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT), are stable lipophilic compounds widely found in the environment and in the general population. They can enter the food chain, and their negative impact on male reproduction is currently under active scrutiny. To explore the hypothesis that environmental exposure to these compounds is associated with altered sperm chromatin structure integrity in human sperm, we conducted a study of 176 Swedish fishermen (with low and high consumption of fatty fish, a very important exposure source of POPs). We determined serum levels of 2,2',4,4',5,5'-hexachlorobiphenyl (CB-153) and p,p'-DDE, and we used the sperm chromatin structure assay (SCSA) to assess sperm DNA/chromatin integrity. When CB-153 serum levels (individual dose range, 39-1,460 ng/g lipid) were categorized into equally sized quintiles, we found an association with the DNA fragmentation index (%DFI). A significantly lower %DF| was found in the lowest CB-153 quintile (< 113 ng/g lipid) compared with the other quintiles; there was a similar tendency, although not statistically significant, between %DFI and p,p'-DDE. These results suggest that POP exposure may have a slight negative impact on human sperm chromatin integrity. Key words: DDE, polychlorinated biphenyls, sperm chromatin integrity, sperm chromatin structure assay (SCSA). doi:10.1289/ehp.7252 available via [Online 22 November 2004]


Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), widely used in the past in cutting oils and lubricants and as an electric insulator, were restricted or totally banned in the 1970s in most developed countries, together with the insecticide dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT). However, because of their high persistence to both biotic and abiotic degradation and their ability to bioaccumulate, these persistent organochlorine pollutants (POPs) continue to be a potential health hazard for the general population as they enter the food chain.

In Sweden, the consumption of fatty fish, such as salmon and herring, from the Baltic Sea off the Swedish east coast represents a major exposure source of PCBs, DDT, and its major metabolite, dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene (p,p'-DDE). Fatty fish species from the Baltic Sea are much more contaminated with PCBs and p,p'-DDE than are corresponding fish from the Swedish west coast (Bergqvist et al. 1989). This is also the case with other POPs such as polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins (PCDDs) and polychlorinated dibenzofurans (PCDFs). This was reflected in higher average plasma levels of dioxin-like POPs among east coast fishermen (290 pg/g lipid) than among west coast fishermen (139 pg/g lipid) and men from the general Swedish population (123 pg/g lipid) (Svensson et al. 1995).

PCBs are not a uniform group of compounds with similar biologic effects. Theoretically there are 209 PCB congeners, varying in the degree of chlorination and the position of chlorine atoms, which affect their stability and toxicity. In reality, fewer can be detected in the environment. The PCB congener 2,2',4,4',5,5'-hexachlorobiphenyl (CB-153) is a useful biomarker of dietary exposure to POPs because it correlates very well with both total PCB concentration (Gladen et al. 1999; Glynn et al. 2000; Grimvall et al. 1997), the 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD) equivalent (TEQ), and the total POP derived TEQ (Brouwer et al. 1995; Gladen et al. 1999). Another relevant biomarker is the antiandrogenic compound p,p'-DDE, which is present in relatively high serum concentrations in men consuming fatty fish from the Baltic Sea (Sjodin et al. 2000).

Several studies on wildlife and laboratory animals have shown that exposure to PCBs and p,p'-DDE is capable of interfering with reproductive and endocrine functions (Cooke et al. 1996; Faqi et al. …

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