Ubiquitous Flame-Retardant Toxicants Impair Spermatogenesis in a Human Stem Cell Model

Sperm counts have rapidly declined in Western males over the past four decades. This rapid decline remains largely unexplained, but exposure to environmental toxicants provides one potential explanation for this decline. Flame retardants are highly prevalent and persistent in the environment, but many have not been assessed for their effects on human spermatogenesis. Using a human stem cell-based model of spermatogenesis, the authors evaluated two major flame retardants, hexabromocyclododecane (HBCDD) and tetrabromobisphenol A (TBBPA), under acute conditions simulating occupational-level exposures. In the present study, the authors show that HBCDD and TBBPA are human male reproductive toxicants in vitro. Although these toxicants do not specifically affect the survival of haploid spermatids, they affect spermatogonia and primary spermatocytes through mitochondrial membrane potential perturbation and reactive oxygen species generation, ultimately causing apoptosis. Taken together, these results show that HBCDD and TBBPA affect human spermatogenesis in vitro and potentially implicate this highly prevalent class of toxicants in the decline of Western males’ sperm counts.

Authors: Steves AN, Bradner JM, Fowler KL, Clarkson-Townsend D, Gill BJ, Turry AC, Caudle WM, Miller GW, Chan AWS, Easley CA 4th. ; Full Source: iScience. 2018 May 25; 3:161-176. doi: 10.1016/j.isci.2018.04.014.