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Does dad matter? New study looks at his environmental exposure in reproductive success
Date:6/11/2014

AMHERST, Mass. A new three-year, $440,000 study led by environmental health scientist Richard Pilsner at the University of Massachusetts Amherst is now underway to investigate whether phthalate levels in expectant fathers have an effect on the couples' reproductive success, via epigenetic modifications of sperm DNA. Phthalates are compounds found in plastics and personal care products that are estimated to be detectable in nearly 100 percent of the U.S. population.

Pilsner and colleagues will examine the possible influence of paternal phthalate exposure on sperm quality and embryo development and whether DNA methylation in sperm cells may be a pathway by which a father's exposure influences these endpoints. The new study is among the first to investigate the influence of phthalate on sperm epigenetics in humans.

Pilsner says, "What we're asking, basically, is whether dad's environmental health contributes to reproductive success, and if so, how is that transmitted to offspring?"

Unlike genetic mutations that affect DNA and the genome, epigenetic markers turn genes on and off to regulate cell processes, which if altered may lead to disease, he explains. If the genome and DNA are like computer hardware, as others have described it, the epigenome is like software, running programs telling genes what to do. Environmental exposures such as smoking, air pollution and metals have been linked to epigenetic changes associated with health risks. DNA methylation is one type of epigenetic mechanism and can be assessed by high-throughput analyses.

Phthalate exposure, known to disrupt endocrines, is associated in human studies with changes in semen quality, androgen levels, birth outcomes and offspring neurodevelopment, but a mechanism has not been clearly identified, Pilsner says.

He adds, "Until now, no one has investigated the sperm epigenome in the context of environmental exposures. Now we know there is this additional la
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Contact: Janet Lathrop
jlathrop@admin.umass.edu
413-545-0444
University of Massachusetts at Amherst
Source:Eurekalert  

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