Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) in follicular fluid from women experiencing infertility in Australia

By Young Ran Kim, Nicole White, Jennifer Bräunig, Soumini Vijayasarathy, Jochen F Mueller, Christine L Knox, Fiona A Harden, Rosana Pacella, and Leisa-Maree L Toms
Environ. Res.
August 13, 2020
DOI: 10.1016/j.envres.2020.109963

Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) have been widely used and detected in human matrices. Evidence that PFAS exposure may be associated with adverse human reproductive health effects exists, however, data is limited. The use of a human matrix such as follicular fluid to determine chemical exposure, along with reproductive data will be used to investigate if there is a relationship between PFAS exposure and human fertility.


This study aims to: (1) assess if associations exist between PFAS concentrations and/or age and fertilisation rate (as determined in follicular fluid of women in Australia who received assisted reproductive treatment (ART)); and (2) assess if associations exist between PFAS concentrations and infertility aetiology.


Follicular fluids were originally collected from participants who underwent fully stimulated ART treatment cycles at an in vitro fertilisation (IVF) clinic in the period 2006-2009 and 2010-11 in Queensland, Australia. The samples were available for analysis of 32 PFASs including perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), perfluorohexane sulfonate (PFHxS), and perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA) using high performance liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry (HPLC-MS/MS). 97 samples were matched with limited demographic data (age and fertilisation rate) and five infertility factors (three known female factors): 1) endometriosis, 2) polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), and 3) genital tract infections - tubal/pelvic inflammation disease; as well as 4) male factor, and 5) idiopathic or unknown from either males or females. SPSS was used for linear regression analysis.


PFASs were detected in all follicular fluid samples with the mean concentrations of PFOS and PFOA, 4.9, and 2.4 ng/ml, respectively. A lower fertilisation rate was observed at higher age when age was added as a covariate, but there was no relationship between PFAS concentrations and fertilisation rate. There were few statistically significant associations between PFAS concentrations in follicular fluid and infertility factors. Log-transformed PFHxS concentrations were lower in females with endometriosis (factor 1) than in women who had reported 'male factors' as a reason of infertility, while PFHpA was higher in women who had infertile due to female factors (factor 1-3) compared to those who had infertile due to male factor.


PFASs were detected in follicular fluid of Australian women who had been treated at an IVF clinic. PFAS exposure found in follicular fluids is linked to increased risk of some infertility factors, and increased age was associated with decreased fertilisation rate in our data. But there was no relationship between PFAS and ferlitisation rate. Further large-scale investigations of PFAS and health effects including infertility are warranted.

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