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Syst Biol Reprod Med. 2011 Feb;57(1-2):63-71. doi: 10.3109/19396368.2010.500440. Epub 2011 Jan 6.

Ambient air pollution exposure and damage to male gametes: human studies and in situ 'sentinel' animal experiments.

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  • 1Department of Biology, University of Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada.


Globally there is concern that adverse reproductive outcomes and fertility impairment in humans may be caused by exposure to environmental contaminants. Air pollution in particular has been linked to DNA damage, abnormal sperm morphology, and reduced sperm performance in men. Experimental studies using model species (mice and rats) exposed in situ provide evidence that ambient air pollution can cause damage to the respiratory system and other tissues or organs. This can take the form of DNA damage and other genetic changes throughout the body, including induced mutations, DNA strand breaks, and altered methylation patterns in male germ cells. Human and animal studies together provide strong evidence that air pollution, especially airborne particulate matter, at commonly occurring ambient levels is genotoxic to male germ cells. The mechanistic link between air pollution exposure and induced genetic changes in male germ cells is currently unclear. 'Sentinel' animal experiments explicitly examining air pollution affects on sperm quality in laboratory rodents have not been conducted and would provide a critical link to observations in humans. The importance of air pollution compared to other factors affecting fertility and reproductive outcomes in humans is not clear and warrants further investigation.

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