First direct evidence that environmental oestrogens affect sperm fertility

Vienna, Austria: Researchers have found the first evidence that oestrogens from the environment, and also ones that occur naturally in our bodies, significantly affect the fertilising ability of sperm.

Prof Lynn Fraser told the annual conference of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology in Vienna today (Tuesday 2 July) that environmental oestrogens appeared to have a far greater impact on a sperm's ability to function than natural oestrogens. Although the environmental oestrogens were normally 1,000 times less biologically potent than the natural oestrogens, they could be 100 times more potent in sperm. This suggested that they might operate in a different way to naturally occurring oestrogens.

Prof Fraser, who is Professor of Reproductive Biology at Kings College London, England, and a former chairman of ESHRE, investigated how three environmental oestrogens and one natural oestrogen affected the final stage of development of sperm when it acquires the ability to fertilise an egg this stage is known as capacitation. Prof Fraser and her team studied this effect in mouse sperm in the test tube (in vitro).

The environmental oestrogens were genistein (G), found in soya and other legume vegetables, 8-prenylnaringenin (8-PN), found in hops, and nonylphenol (NP), found in industrial products such as synthetic cleaners, paints, herbicides and pesticides. The natural oestrogen was oestradiol 17 (E2), which is present in the female vagina and in seminal plasma (the fluid containing the sperm).

In sperm, which had not completed capacitation, all the oestrogens accelerated development so that they became fertile more quickly. The oestrogens stimulated sperm motility, capacitation and the acrosome reaction (when the cap at the head of the sperm ruptures to release enzymes which enable the sperm to penetrate the barriers surrounding the egg).

In sperm which were already capacitated, the natural oestrogen had no

Contact: Emma Mason
European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology

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