Reproductive toxicity of low-level lead exposure in men
Parameters of semen quality, seminal plasma indicators of secretory function of the prostate and seminal vesicles, sex hormones in serum, and biomarkers of lead, cadmium, copper, zinc, and selenium body burden were measured in 240 Croatian men 19–52 years of age. The subjects had no occupational exposure to metals and no known other reasons suspected of influencing male reproductive function or metal metabolism. After adjusting for age, smoking, alcohol, blood cadmium, and serum copper, zinc, and selenium by multiple regression, significant (P<0.05) associations of blood lead (BPb), δ-aminolevulinic acid dehydratase (ALAD), and/or erythrocyte protoporphyrin (EP) with reproductive parameters indicated a lead-related increase in immature sperm concentration, in percentages of pathologic sperm, wide sperm, round sperm, and short sperm, in serum levels of testosterone and estradiol, and a decrease in seminal plasma zinc and in serum prolactin. These reproductive effects were observed at low-level lead exposure (BPb median 49 μg/L, range 11–149 μg/L in the 240 subjects) common for general populations worldwide. The observed significant synergistic effect of BPb and blood cadmium on increasing serum testosterone, and additive effect of a decrease in serum selenium on increasing serum testosterone, may have implications on the initiation and development of prostate cancer because testosterone augments the progress of prostate cancer in its early stages.