Mediation of the Relationship Between Phthalate Exposure and Semen Quality by Oxidative Stress Among 1034 Reproductive-Aged Chinese Men

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Background: Emerging evidence from animals indicates that oxidative stress plays a crucial role in the effects of phthalate exposure on male reproductive dysfunctions, which has never been thoroughly explored in humans. Objective: To explore the potential mediating role of oxidative stress in the association of phthalate exposure with semen quality among 1034 Chinese men. Method: Repeated urine samples gathered from the male partners of sub-fertile couples were analyzed for 3 oxidative stress markers [8-hydroxy-2-deoxyguanosine (8-OHdG), 8-iso-prostaglandin F2α (8-isoPGF2α) and 4-hydroxy-2-nonenal-mercapturic acid (HNE-MA)], using a liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry. Multivariate regression models were constructed to evaluate the associations of urinary oxidative stress markers with urinary phthalate metabolites and semen quality. We also explored the potential mediation effects by oxidative stress markers. Results: Significantly positive dose-dependent relationships were observed between each individual phthalate metabolite and all analyzed oxidative stress markers (all p for trend<0.05), except for monoethyl phthalate (MEP) in relation to HNE-MA. Additionally, significantly or suggestively inverse dose-dependent relationships were exhibited between urinary 8-isoPGF2α and sperm concentration (p for trend = 0.05), and between urinary 8-OHdG and percent of normal sperm morphology (p for trend = 0.01). Mediation analysis showed that urinary 8-isoPGF2α suggestively mediated 12% of the inverse association between monobutyl phthalate (MBP) and sperm concentration, and that urinary 8-OHdG suggestively mediated 32% of the inverse association of MEP with percent of normal sperm morphology (both p < 0.10). Conclusions: Although further investigations are required, our results suggest that oxidative stress may play a mediating role in the effects of phthalate exposure on impaired semen quality.