BACKGROUND: Exposure to synthetic pyrethroid insecticides is widespread, and is expected to increase among the general population due to the need to replace other common insecticides following regulatory use restrictions. On the basis of limited studies, there is animal and human evidence for altered reproductive or endocrine function following pyrethroid exposure. METHODS: The present study measured urinary pyrethroid metabolites [3-phenoxybenzoic acid (3PBA) and cis- and trans-3-(2,2-dichlorovinyl)-2,2-dimethylcyclopropane carboxylic acid (CDCCA and TDCCA)], semen quality, sperm motion parameters and sperm DNA damage with the neutral comet assay in 207 men recruited from an infertility clinic. RESULTS: In multivariate analysis, the highest 3PBA quartile was associated with a suggestive 20.2 million sperm/ml reduction (95% confidence interval -37.1 to + 2.6) in sperm concentration compared with men below the 3PBA median. There were significant inverse associations between TDCCA and sperm motility and sperm motion parameters when adjusting for CDCCA and other covariates. The highest TDCCA quartile was associated with a 15.5% decline (95% confidence interval -26.2 to -4.8) in sperm motility compared with men below the median. In multiple logistic analyses, there were dose-dependent increased odds for below reference sperm concentration, motility and morphology in relation to TDCCA. Among the comet assay measures, 3PBA and CDCCA were associated with increased sperm DNA damage, measured as percent DNA in the comet tail. CONCLUSIONS: We found evidence for reduced semen quality and increased sperm DNA damage in relation to urinary metabolites of pyrethroid insecticides. These findings may be of concern due to increased pyrethroid use and prevalent human exposure.
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