Effect of Modern Environmental Toxins on Human Reproductive Health and Embryo Development


There is an ongoing debate over whether impaired fertility is connected to the effects of environmental factors. Chronic exposure to organic compounds such as bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates is emerging as a possible cause of reduced fertility and spontaneous pregnancy termination. BPA is present in food and beverage containers, and its evaporation increases with age and usage of the product. As a xenoestrogen, BPA has been shown to cause genetic damage in mouse oocytes, leading to miscarriage and infertility. Phthalates are used as plasticizers in polyvinylchloride (PVC) products and therefore are constituents of food packaging, coatings of pills, catheters, and blood transfusion tubes. Because phthalates do not bind covalently to PVC, they easily leach into the environment and are taken up via ingestion, inhalation, skin absorption, or intravenous medication. In mice, chronic exposure to phthalates also increases embryo loss and fetal malformation. Moreover, according to our preliminary data, phthalate components of plastic tubing used for hemodialysis impair human sperm motility and intracellular calcium homeostasis.

This project explores the connection between BPA/phthalates and impaired fertility by studying the effects these compounds have on human sperm function, in particular in patients undergoing dialysis treatment. We also study the effects of BPA/phthalates on developing mouse embryos. The knowledge acquired from this project will also help clarify why dialysis patients have severely impaired reproductive potential.

This project is supported by March of Dimes Basil O'Connor Starter Scholarship awarded to Dr. Polina Lishko.


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