Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

Environmental safety for growth and reproduction: a multinational effort

This collaborative project on male reproductive health in the Russian Federation was proposed on the basis of current world-wide concern about environmental effects on male reproduction. The low life expectancy of men and the declining population in Russia also suggested that the reproductive health of men may have been adversely affected by environmental factors to which the various nuclear accidents may have contributed, so the initial focus of the research has been on radiation effects.

Two medical scientists were identified and trained in the clinical and basic science aspects of andrology in the research laboratories of the collaborating INTAS Member States (Copenhagen and Edinburgh). An Andrology Workshop was conducted in the Russian centre in which 78 participants from all regions of Russia and others from the States of Armenia, Georgia and the Ukraine took part.

Clinical protocols were developed for studies in the Russian centre and in several selected regions of the Federation to evaluate the hormonal and reproductive status of cohorts of men who have been exposed to radiation to varying extents. The preliminary conclusions are summarised as follows:

-the overall concentrations of reproductive hormones (testosterone, FSH, LH, prolactin) and of cortisol, the stress-related hormone, of 247 "liquidators", i.e. men exposed to acute radiation doses in 1986-87, were in the normal ranges as defined by WHO, but there was substantial evidence of hypogonadism associated with reduced pituitary gonadotrophin secretion and elevated prolactinaemia;

-although the overall levels of various semen parameters of the "liquidators" were in the normal WHO-defined ranges, frequent individual disorders were found including oligozoospermia, reduced semen volume and sperm motility;

-no correlation with the radiation dose measured during exposure was detected for either the hormonal or semen parameters but the lack of a control group limits the interpretation of results;

-aound 50% of men exposed to chronic long-term radiation in 'contaminated' regions had abnormally low androgen levels, associated in some with a marked elevation of FSH indicating testicular damage, a higher incidence of disorders than among the "liquidators", although this comparison needs further statistical evaluation;

-in the search for appropriate controls, men living in a 'non-contaminated' region were found to have similarly high incidence of hypogonadism and a high incidence of elevated levels of cortisol.

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National University Hospital, Rigshospitalet
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