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Male fertility determined in womb

17th March 2008

Researchers have suggested that male fertility problems are determined in the womb.

A team from Edinburgh University found that common genital disorders, low sperm count and testicular cancer could all be linked to hormone levels early in pregnancy.

The studies, which were carried out at the Medical Research Council Human Reproductive Sciences Unit, were published online in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

Using a mouse model, they found that future reproductive health was determined by levels of male hormones – or androgens - in a critical window at 8-12 weeks gestation.

Study leader Dr Michelle Welsh said: We know from other studies that androgens work during foetal development to programme the reproductive tract. But our assumption was that it would be much later in pregnancy.?

Researchers found that the level of androgen hormone at this time of gestation was related to the distance between the base of the penis and the anus and could be an early warning sign of future reproductive problems in baby boys.

Dr Welsh added: “We would suggest that this measurement, even at this later stage in life, could offer an indication of hormone exposure. For example, the shorter the distance, the less confident we can be that hormones have acted correctly and at the right time.?

Dr Allan Pacey, who is a senior lecturer in andrology at the University of Sheffield, said scientists had been worried for many years about the increasing incidence of problems resulting from disrupted development of the male reproductive system during pregnancy.

 

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