Background: Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), a class of the most ubiquitous environmental contaminants, may reduce male reproductive functions, but the data from human population studies are very limited. Objectives: We designed this study to determine whether environmental exposure to PAHs contributes to the alteration in semen quality, sperm DNA damage, and apoptosis in the general male human population. Methods: We measured urinary levels of four PAH metabolites and assessed semen quality, sperm apoptotic markers with Annexin V assay, and sperm DNA damage with comet assay in 232 men from Chongqing, China. Results: We found that increased urinary 2-hydroxynaphthalene (2-OHNa) levels were associated with increased comet parameters, including the percentage of DNA in the tail (tail%) [β coefficient = 13.26% per log unit 2-OHNa (micrograms per gram creatinine); 95% confidence interval (CI), 7.97-18.55]; tail length (12.25; 95% CI, 0.01-24.52), and tail distribution (7.55; 95% CI, 1.28-18.83). The urinary level of 1-hydroxypyrene was associated only with increased tail% (5.32; 95% CI, 0.47-10.17). Additionally, the increased levels of four urinary PAH metabolites were significantly associated with decreased vital Annexin V negative sperm counts. However, there was no significant association between urinary PAH metabolite levels and human semen parameters or morphology of the sperm samples. Conclusions: Our data indicate that the environmental level of PAH exposure is associated with increased sperm DNA damage but not with semen quality. These findings suggest that exposure to PAHs may disrupt sperm DNA and thereby interfere with human male fertility.
Han, X., Zhou, N., Cui, Z., Ma, M., Li, L., Cai, M., … Cao, J. (2011). Association between urinary polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon metabolites and sperm DNA damage: A population study in Chongqing, China. Environmental Health Perspectives, 119(5), 652–657. https://doi.org/10.1289/ehp.1002340