Fertility and markers of male reproductive function in Inuit and European populations spanning large contrasts in blood levels of persistent organochlorines

Environ Health Perspect. 2008 Mar;116(3):269-77. doi: 10.1289/ehp.10700.


Objective: We synthesized the main findings from an international epidemiologic study on the impact of biopersistent organic pollutants (POPs) on human reproductive function.

Data sources and extraction: We used a database with interview and biological data from 2,269 women and their spouses, and 18 published core papers.

Data synthesis: The study did not provide direct evidence of hormone-like activity of the polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) congener CB-153 and the main dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) metabolite, 1,1-dichloro-2,2-bis(p-chlorophenyl)ethylene (p,p'-DDE), as serum concentrations of these compounds were not consistently related to either endogenous or exogenous hormone activity in serum. Nevertheless several links bewteen POP exposure and biomarkers of male reproductive function were identified. First, an association between high CB-153 serum levels and low sperm counts was detected within a subgroup of men with short androgen receptor CAG repeat length. Second, a relationship between increased CB-153 serum concentrations and decreased sperm motility was seen in all four studied regions, and indications of reduced neutral alpha-glucosidase activity in seminal plasma point to a post-testicular effect. Third, damage of sperm chromatin integrity was considerably less frequent in Greenlandic Inuits compared with that in European groups, and only in the latter was impairment of sperm chromatin integrity related to POPs. Despite these effects, fertility in terms of time taken to conceive was not related to POPs except in Inuits. A likely explanation of the latter was not identified.

Conclusions: POPs may interfere with male reproductive function without major impact on fertility. The data do not provide direct evidence for endocrine disruption, hence other mechanisms should also be considered.

Keywords: Inuit; polymorphisms; reproductive health; semen quality; sex hormone receptors; time to pregnancy; xenobiotics.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers / analysis
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects
  • Environmental Exposure / analysis
  • Environmental Pollutants / blood
  • Environmental Pollutants / toxicity*
  • European Continental Ancestry Group*
  • Female
  • Fertility / drug effects*
  • Fertility / genetics
  • Humans
  • Hydrocarbons, Chlorinated / blood
  • Hydrocarbons, Chlorinated / toxicity*
  • Inuits*
  • Male
  • Polymorphism, Genetic
  • Pregnancy
  • Reproduction / drug effects*
  • Reproduction / genetics
  • Semen / drug effects
  • Semen / metabolism
  • Spermatozoa / drug effects
  • Spermatozoa / metabolism


  • Biomarkers
  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Hydrocarbons, Chlorinated