Are maternal serum phthalate metabolite, phenol and paraben concentrations measured at 10-17 weeks of gestation associated with male infant genital developmental outcomes, specifically cryptorchidism, anogenital distance (AGD), penile length and testicular descent distance, at birth and postnatally?
Maternal serum bisphenol A (BPA) concentration at 10-17 weeks of gestation was positively associated with congenital or postnatally acquired cryptorchidism, and n-propyl paraben (n-PrP) concentration was associated with shorter AGD from birth to 24 months of age.
Male reproductive disorders are increasing in prevalence, which may reflect environmental influences on foetal testicular development. Animal studies have implicated phthalates, BPA and parabens, to which humans are ubiquitously exposed. However, epidemiological studies have generated conflicting results and have often been limited by small sample size and/or measurement of chemical exposures outside the most relevant developmental window.
Case-control study of cryptorchidism nested within a prospective cohort study (Cambridge Baby Growth Study), with recruitment of pregnant women at 10-17 postmenstrual weeks of gestation from a single UK maternity unit between 2001 and 2009 and 24 months of infant follow-up. Of 2229 recruited women, 1640 continued with the infancy study after delivery, of whom 330 mothers of 334 male infants (30 with congenital cryptorchidism, 25 with postnatally acquired cryptorchidism and 279 unmatched controls) were included in the present analysis.
Maternal blood was collected at enrolment, and serum levels of 16 phthalate metabolites, 9 phenols (including BPA) and 6 parabens were measured using liquid chromatography/tandem mass spectrometry. Logistic regression was used to model the association of cryptorchidism with serum chemical concentrations, adjusting for putative confounders. Additionally, offspring AGD, penile length and testicular descent distance were assessed at 0, 3, 12, 18 and 24 months of age, and age-specific Z scores were calculated. Associations between serum chemical levels and these outcomes were tested using linear mixed models.
Maternal serum BPA concentration was associated with offspring all-type cryptorchidism both when considered as a continuous exposure (adjusted odds ratio per log10 μg/l: 2.90, 95% CI 1.31-6.43, P =  0.009) and as quartiles (phet =  0.002). Detection of n-PrP in maternal serum was associated with shorter AGD (by 0.242 standard deviations, 95% CI 0.051-0.433, P =  0.01) from birth to 24 months of age; this reduction was independent of body size and other putative confounders. We did not find any consistent associations with offspring outcomes for the other phenols, parabens, and phthalate metabolites measured.
We cannot discount confounding by other demographic factors or endocrine-disrupting chemicals. There may have been misclassification of chemical exposure due to use of single serum measurements. The cohort was not fully representative of pregnant women in the UK, particularly in terms of smoking prevalence and maternal ethnicity.
Our observational findings support experimental evidence that intrauterine exposure to BPA and n-PrP during early gestation may adversely affect male reproductive development. More evidence is required before specific public health recommendations can be made.
This work was supported by a European Union Framework V programme, the World Cancer Research Fund International, the Medical Research Council (UK), Newlife the Charity for Disabled Children, the Mothercare Group Foundation, Mead Johnson Nutrition and the National Institute for Health Research Cambridge Comprehensive Biomedical Research Centre. Visiting Fellowship (J.M.): Regional Programme ‘Jiménez de la Espada’ for Research Mobility, Cooperation and Internationalization, Seneca Foundation-Science and Technology Agency for the Region of Murcia (No. 20136/EE/17). K.O. is supported by the Medical Research Council (UK) (Unit Programme number: MC_UU_12015/2). The authors declare no conflict of interest.

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