The relationship between human semen parameters and environmental exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls and p,p'-DDE

Environ Health Perspect. 2003 Sep;111(12):1505-11. doi: 10.1289/ehp.6175.


Scientific and public concern exists about potential reproductive health effects of persistent chlorinated organic chemicals, such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT), and dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene (DDE, the most stable daughter compound of DDT). To explore the hypothesis that environmental exposures to PCBs and DDE are associated with altered semen parameters, we conducted a cross-sectional study of 212 male partners of subfertile couples who presented to the Massachusetts General Hospital Andrology Laboratory. Semen parameters were analyzed as both a continuous measure and dichotomized based on World Health Organization reference values for sperm concentration (< 20 million/mL), motility (< 50% motile), and Kruger strict criteria for morphology (< 4% normal). The comparison group for the dichotomized analysis was men with all three semen parameters above the reference values. In serum, 57 PCB congeners and p,p -DDE were measured by congener-specific analysis using gas chromatography with electron capture detection. There were dose-response relationships among PCB-138 and sperm motility (odds ratio per tertile, adjusted for age, abstinence, and smoking, and p-value for trend were, respectively, 1.00, 1.68, 2.35, and p-value = 0.03) and morphology (1.00, 1.36, 2.53, p-value = 0.04). There was limited evidence of an inverse relationship between sum of PCBs, as well as those PCBs classified as cytochrome P450 enzyme inducers, with sperm motility and sperm morphology, as well as limited evidence of an inverse association between p,p -DDE and sperm motility. The lack of a consistent relationship among semen parameters and other individual PCB congeners and groupings of congeners may indicate a difference in spermatotoxicity between congeners.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Dichlorodiphenyl Dichloroethylene / toxicity*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Environmental Exposure*
  • Environmental Pollutants / toxicity*
  • Humans
  • Infertility, Male / etiology
  • Insecticides / toxicity*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Odds Ratio
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls / toxicity*
  • Sperm Count*
  • Sperm Motility*
  • Spermatozoa / pathology


  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Insecticides
  • Dichlorodiphenyl Dichloroethylene
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls