How does lead induce male infertility?

Mohsen Vigeh, Derek Smith, Ping-Chi Hsu
2011 Iranian Journal of Reproductive Medicine   unpublished
An important part of male infertility of unknown etiology may be attributed to various environmental and occupational exposures to toxic substances, such as lead. The reproductive effects of lead are complex and appear to involve multiple pathways, not all of which are fully understood. It is still unclear, for example, if male reproductive issues in lead-exposed persons are mostly related to the disruption of reproductive hormones, whether the problems are due to the lead's direct effects on
more » ... direct effects on the gonads, or both? This question has been difficult to answer, because lead, especially at high levels, may adversely affect many human organs. Although lead can potentially reduce male fertility by decreasing sperm count and motility, inducing abnormal morphology and affecting functional parameters; not all studies have been able to clearly demonstrate such findings. In addition, research has shown that the blood-testis barrier can protect testicular cells from direct exposure to high levels of blood lead. For these reasons and considering the wide spectrum of lead toxicity on reproductive hormones, the present review suggests that lead's main influence on male reproduction probably occurs by altering the reproductive hormonal axis and the hormonal control on spermatogenesis, rather than by a direct toxic effect on the seminiferous tubules of the testes. As blood lead concentrations below the currently accepted worker protection standard may still adversely affect male fertility, future studies should aim to establish more concrete links between lead exposure (especially at low levels) and subsequent male infertility. Research should also pay more attention to lead's effects on reducing male fertility rates based on not only hormonal axis alteration, but also on the changes in sperm characteristic among exposed subjects.