- Sean Schmidt & Jon Sharpe
Focus on Ecogenetics: Men's Reproductive Health
CEEH investigator Sheela Sathyanarayana reports on a study looking at how genes and the environment interact to affect the development and physical characteristics of reproductive programming in male infants. In the article, A pilot study of the association between genetic polymorphisms involved in estrogen signaling and infant male genital phenotypes published in the May 14, 2012 issue of the Asian Journal of Andrology, Sathyanarayana and her team researched how genes and their alleles (different versions of the genes) are associated with particular phenotypes (observed physical characteristics) of infant male reproductive organs. Normal development of male reproductive systems in fetal stages depends on hormonal signaling and both genetic and environmental factors have been shown to affect this development. Birth defects in the male reproductive system are known to be risk factors for conditions such as testicular cancer and sperm abnormalities later in life. In the pilot study, the researchers found that polymorphisms in genes involved in estrogen signaling are associated with changes in genital measurements. In addition to this genotype/phenotype relationship, Sathyanarayana's team also explored how exposure to phthalates might further impact the gene/phenotype association to produce additional abnormalities in reproductive programming and phenotypes. Phthalates are a group of industrial chemicals used to make plastics more flexible. They are widely used in consumer products, such as toys, food packaging, shower curtains and personal care products. Although the researchers weren't able to find a statistically significant interaction between prenatal phthalate exposure, genetic variants and phenotypes, they attributed this to the relatively small sample size and emphasized that this is an important environmental exposure to consider in future studies. CEEH investigator Stephen Schwartz and CEEH researchers Fred Farin and Hui-Wen Wilkerson are co-authors on the paper.