The objective of the present study was to characterize and investigate potential mechanisms for the male reproductive toxicity of trichloroethylene (TCE). Male rats exposed to TCE in drinking water exhibited a dose-dependent decrease in the ability to fertilize oocytes from untreated females. This reduction in fertilizing ability occurred in the absence of treatment-related changes in combined testes/epididymides weight, sperm concentration, or sperm motility. In addition, flow cytometric analysis showed that there were no treatment-related differences in sperm mitochondrial membrane potential or acrosomal stability. TCE caused slight histological changes in efferent ductule epithelium, coinciding with the previously reported ductule localization of cytochrome P450 2E1. However, no alterations were noted in the testis or in any segment of the epididymis. Because there were no treatment-related changes to sperm indices and no clear pathological lesions to explain the reduced fertilization, the present study investigated TCE-mediated sperm oxidative damage. Oxidized proteins were detected by immunochemical techniques following the derivatization of sperm protein carbonyls with dinitrophenyl hydrazine. Immunochemical staining of whole, intact sperm showed the presence of halos of oxidized proteins around the head and midpiece of sperm from TCE-treated animals. The presence of oxidized sperm proteins was confirmed by Western blotting using in vitro-oxidized sperm as a positive control. Thiobarbituric acid reactive substances analyses showed a dose-dependent increase in the level of lipid peroxidation in sperm from treated animals, as well. Oxidative damage to sperm may explain the diminished fertilizing capacity of exposed animals and provide another mechanism by which TCE can adversely affect reproductive capabilities in the male.
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