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Effects of radiofrequency electromagnetic field (RF-EMF) exposure on male fertility: A systematic review of experimental studies on non-human mammals and human sperm in vitro

TitoloEffects of radiofrequency electromagnetic field (RF-EMF) exposure on male fertility: A systematic review of experimental studies on non-human mammals and human sperm in vitro
Tipo di pubblicazioneArticolo su Rivista peer-reviewed
Anno di Pubblicazione2024
AutoriCordelli, Eugenia, Ardoino L., Benassi Barbara, Consales Claudia, Eleuteri Patrizia, Marino Carmela, Sciortino M., Villani Paola, Brinkworth M. H., Chen G., McNamee J. P., Wood A.W., Belackova L., Verbeek J., and Pacchierotti Francesca
RivistaEnvironment International
Parole chiaveanimal cell, Animal studies, Apoptosis, article, blood sampling, cell death, cell viability, clinical outcome, descriptive research, DNA damage, Electromagnetic field effects, Electromagnetic field exposure, Electromagnetic Fields, Electromagnetic pulse, epididymis histology, experimental study, Fertility, fertility preservation, Flow cytometry, frequency analysis, Gene expression, gene mutation, Health risks, histology, histopathology, human, human cell, Human sperm, in vitro fertilization, in vitro study, In-vitro, male fertility, male infertility, mammal, Mammals, meta-analysis, Morphology, morphometry, nonhuman, nuclear magnetic resonance imaging, outcome assessment, Oxidative stress, Quality control, quantitative analysis, radiofrequency, Radiofrequency electromagnetic field, radiofrequency electromagnetic field exposure, Random processes, reproductive behavior, reproductive health, Reproductive organ toxicity, Reproductive organs, Risk assessment, Semen qualities, sperm, Sperm Count, sperm viability, systematic review, testis histomorphometry, Testosterone, testosterone blood level, Toxicity

Background: The World Health Organization is coordinating an international project aimed at systematically reviewing the evidence regarding the association between radiofrequency electromagnetic field (RF-EMF) exposure and adverse health effects. Reproductive health outcomes have been identified among the priority topics to be addressed. Objectives: To evaluate the effect of RF-EMF exposure on male fertility of experimental mammals and on human sperm exposed in vitro. Methods: Three electronic databases (PubMed, Scopus and EMF Portal) were last searched on September 17, 2022. Two independent reviewers screened the studies, which were considered eligible if met the following criteria: 1) Peer-reviewed publications of sham controlled experimental studies, 2) Non-human male mammals exposed at any stage of development or human sperm exposed in vitro, 3) RF-EMF exposure within the frequency range of 100 kHz-300 GHz, including electromagnetic pulses (EMP), 4) one of the following indicators of reproductive system impairment: • decrease of fertility: rate of infertile males, rate of nonpregnant females, litter size and in vitro fertilization rate; • effects on semen quality: in animal studies sperm count, in both animal and in vitro studies sperm vitality, morphology and DNA/chromatin alterations; • reproductive organ toxicity: testis-epididymis weight, testis or epididymis histology, testis histomorphometry, testicular cell death, estimated testicular cell production; • hormonal effects: testosterone level.Two reviewers extracted study characteristics and outcome data. We assessed risk of bias (RoB) using the Office of Health Assessment and Translation (OHAT) guidelines. We categorized studies into 3 levels of overall RoB: low, some or high concern. We pooled study results in a random effects meta-analysis comparing average exposure to no-exposure and in a dose–response meta-analysis using all exposure doses. For experimental animal studies, we conducted subgroup analyses for species, Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) and temperature increase. We grouped studies on human sperm exposed in vitro by the fertility status of sample donors and SAR. We assessed the certainty of the evidence using the GRADE approach after excluding studies that were rated as “high concern” for RoB. Results: One-hundred and seventeen papers on animal studies and 10 papers on human sperm exposed in vitro were included in this review. Only few studies were rated as “low concern” because most studies were at RoB for exposure and/or outcome assessment. Subgrouping the experimental animal studies by species, SAR, and temperature increase partly accounted for the heterogeneity of individual studies in about one third of the meta-analyses. In no case was it possible to conduct a subgroup analysis of the few human sperm in vitro studies because there were always 1 or more groups including less than 3 studies. Among all the considered endpoints, the meta-analyses of animal studies provided evidence of adverse effects of RF-EMF exposure in all cases but the rate of infertile males and the size of the sired litters. The assessment of certainty according to the GRADE methodology assigned a moderate certainty to the reduction of pregnancy rate and to the evidence of no-effect on litter size, a low certainty to the reduction of sperm count, and a very low certainty to all the other meta-analysis results. Studies on human sperm exposed in vitro indicated a small detrimental effect of RF-EMF exposure on vitality and no-effect on DNA/chromatin alterations. According to GRADE, a very low certainty was attributed to these results. The few studies that used EMP exposure did not show effects on the outcomes. A low to very low certainty was attributed to these results. Discussion: Many of the studies examined suffered of severe limitations that led to the attribution of uncertainty to the results of the meta-analyses and did not allow to draw firm conclusions on most of the endpoints. Nevertheless, the associations between RF-EMF exposure and decrease of pregnancy rate and sperm count, to which moderate and low certainty were attributed, are not negligible, also in view of the indications that in Western countries human male fertility potential seems to be progressively declining. It was beyond the scope of our systematic review to determine the shape of the dose–response relationship or to identify a minimum effective exposure level. The subgroup and the dose–response fitting analyses did not show a consistent relationship between the exposure levels and the observed effects. Notably, most studies evaluated RF-EMF exposure levels that were higher than the levels to which human populations are typically exposed, and the limits set in international guidelines. For these reasons we cannot provide suggestions to confirm or reconsider current human exposure limits. Considering the outcomes of this systematic review and taking into account the limitations found in several of the studies, we suggest that further investigations with better characterization of exposure and dosimetry including several exposure levels and blinded outcome assessment were conducted. Protocol registration: Protocols for the systematic reviews of animal studies and of human sperm in vitro studies were published in Pacchierotti et al., 2021. The former was also registered in PROSPERO (CRD42021227729 = 227729) and the latter in Open Science Framework (OSF Registration DOI © 2024 The Authors


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Citation KeyCordelli2024