Magazine article Science News

Male Rats Find Alcohol a Fertility Downer

Magazine article Science News

Male Rats Find Alcohol a Fertility Downer

Article excerpt

In the not-so-distant past, a man's sperm was thought to be virtually impervious to a variety of reproductive hazards. Researchers now believe that paternal exposure to some pesticides and other chemicals can slash a couple's chances of pregnancy.

A new study in rats raises the additional possibility that alcohol can reduce a man's shot at fatherhood.

Theodore J. Cicero and his colleagues at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis didn't start out to do a fertility study. They began their investigation with the knowledge that women who drink heavily during pregnancy run the risk of delivering a child with fetal alcohol syndrome. The team wondered if a father's drinking habits could also cause such deficits.

It would be unethical to advise men to drink heavily in order to study the effects on their offspring, so Cicero's team turned to a rodent model of an alcoholic binge.

The researchers injected 75 male rats with a large amount of alcohol -- the equivalent of giving humans enough liquor to produce a 0.2 percent concentration of alcohol in their blood. (Legal intoxication for people is typically a concentration of 0.1 percent.) Soon after their shot of booze, the rats passed out or seemed groggy. "They gave every appearance of being rather drunk," Cicero says.

The team waited 24 hours and then mated the male rats with 75 female rats that had not been treated with alcohol. The drunken bout didn't affect the male rodents' interest in sex: The hungover males copulated with the same vigor as 75 control males that were also paired with female rats. The control rats had not received alcohol.

Initially, the researchers intended to simply keep tabs on the rat pups born to alcohol-treated fathers. After the pups grew up, the team would begin testing them to see if they appeared to have learning deficits. …

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