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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2022

Follicular fluid and blood levels of persistent organic pollutants and reproductive outcomes among women undergoing assisted reproductive technologies

Bjorvang, Richelle D.; Hallberg, Ida; Pikki, Anne; Berglund, Lars; Pedrelli, Matteo; Kiviranta, Hannu; Rantakokko, Panu; Ruokojarvi, Paivi; Lindh, Christian H.; Olovsson, Matts; Persson, Sara; Holte, Jan; Sjunnesson, Ylva; Damdimopoulou, Pauliina


Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are industrial chemicals resistant to degradation and have been shown to have adverse effects on reproductive health in wildlife and humans. Although regulations have reduced their levels, they are still ubiquitously present and pose a global concern. Here, we studied a cohort of 185 women aged 21-43 years with a median of 2 years of infertility who were seeking assisted reproductive technology (ART) treatment at the Carl von Linne Clinic in Uppsala, Sweden. We analyzed the levels of 9 organochlorine pesticides (OCPs), 10 polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), 3 polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), and 8 perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) in the blood and follicular fluid (FF) samples collected during ovum pick-up. Impact of age on chemical transfer from blood to FF was analyzed. Associations of chemicals, both individually and as a mixture, to 10 ART endpoints were investigated using linear, logistic, and weighted quantile sum regression, adjusted for age, body mass index, parity, fatty fish intake and cause of infertility. Out of the 30 chemicals, 20 were detected in more than half of the blood samples and 15 in FF. Chemical transfer from blood to FF increased with age. Chemical groups in blood crossed the blood-follicle barrier at different rates: OCPs > PCBs > PFASs. Hexachlorobenzene, an OCP, was associated with lower anti-Miillerian hormone, clinical pregnancy, and live birth. PCBs and PFASs were associated with higher antral follicle count and ovarian response as measured by ovarian sensitivity index, but also with lower embryo quality. As a mixture, similar findings were seen for the sum of PCBs and PFASs. Our results suggest that age plays a role in the chemical transfer from blood to FF and that exposure to POPs significantly associates with ART outcomes. We strongly encourage further studies to elucidate the underlying mechanisms of reproductive effects of POPs in humans.


Persistent organic pollutants; Assisted reproductive technologies; Follicular fluid; Ovarian sensitivity index; Embryo quality; Live birth

Published in

Environmental Research
2022, Volume: 208, article number: 112626