‘Mycotoxins as potential cause of human infertility’ – Evidence from animal and cell models.
Mycotoxins are toxic metabolites produced by Aspergillus, Penicillium, and Fusarium species of fungi, which can infect and proliferate on various agricultural commodities in the field and/or during storage. The well known detrimental health effects of mycotoxins in humans include liver cancer, Balkan Endemic Nephropathy, child growth impairment, immune suppression, neural tube defects and death. There is, however, growing evidence suggesting that mycotoxins may negatively influence human fertility. Studies using animal and cell models indicate that zearalenone, deoxynivalenol, ochratoxin A and aflatoxin B1 can adversely affect fertility, through damage to sex organs, gametes and disruption of steroidogenesis. For instance, animal models have described that exposure to the aforementioned mycotoxins can promote adverse effects on spermatozoa, sertoli and Leydig cell function, oocyte maturation, and uterine and ovarian development and function, both in vivo and ex-vivo. They may also induce oxidative stress resulting in sperm DNA damage and subsequently, reduced fertilisation rates and lower embryo quality. Furthermore, mycotoxins may act as endocrine disrupters, altering the steroid hormone homeostasis, consequently leading to subfertility/infertility. In humans, zearalenone has been linked to precocious puberty in girls, correlating with extremely high serum oestrogen levels. Considering that multiple exposures to these mycotoxins have been reported in humans and that there is a homology in organ systems between animals and humans, these findings may have clinical relevance in human infertility. Therefore, this presentation critically examines the available in vivo, ex vivo and in vitro studies relating mycotoxins’ adverse effects on fertility with emphasis on its implications for human infertility. Key words: Mycotoxins, Endocrine disrupters, Steroidogenesis, Gamete, Human fertility