To determine whether prenatal exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) with possible hormone-disrupting effects is capable of affecting sexual differentiation in boys at the age of puberty.
Following analysis for PCB in their umbilical cords, 196 boys from a Faroese birth cohort were examined for the development of puberty at 14 years of age.
Physical examination included determination of Tanner stages and testicular size. A morning urine sample was centrifuged and examined for the presence of sperm. Serum was analyzed for sex hormones.
twenty boys (10.2%) had abnormalities in testicular development, mainly cryptorchidism. only three of them had a positive spermaturia test, but the level of exposure to pcbs in this group had not been increased. occurrence of spermaturia in 58 of the remaining 176 boys was also not associated with pcb exposure but showed highly significant associations with tanner stages and testicular size. serum concentrations of testosterone, fsh and lh were higher in boys with spermaturia, while sex hormone-binding globulin was lower and no difference occurred in inhibin b. serum hormone parameters showed only weak associations with the level of prenatal pcb exposure.
These findings support the validity of spermaturia as a useful indicator of puberty, although a substantial rate of false negatives must be taken into account. Despite the wide range of exposure to PCB, the findings did not reveal any definite associations with the development of puberty. However, because of the limited size of the cohort, small effects cannot be excluded.