Skip to main content

Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers in Human Serum and Sperm Quality


Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) are widely used flame retardants; currently, they are identified as ubiquitous environmental contaminants. Several studies indicate that PBDEs might affect male fertility. We present the results of a pilot study on the relationship between human serum PBDEs and sperm quality. The PBDE levels in Japan are comparable to those found in European countries. Strong inverse correlations were observed between the serum concentration of 2,2′,4,4′,5,5′-hexabromodiphenyl ether and sperm concentration (r = −0.841, p = 0.002) and testis size (r = −0.764, p = 0.01). Extensive studies on the relationship between PBDEs and sperm quality are required.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2


  • Akutsu K, Kitagawa M, Nakazawa H, Makino T, Iwazaki K, Oda H, Hori S (2003) Time-trend (1973–2000) of polybrominated diphenyl ethers in Japanese mother’s milk. Chemosphere 53:645–654

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Eriksson P, Jakobsson E, Fredriksson A (2001) Brominated flame retardants: a novel class of developmental neurotoxicants in our environment? Environ Health Perspect 109:903–908

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Fowles JR, Fairbrother A, Baecher-Steppan L, Kerkvliet NI (1994) Immunologic and endocrine effects of the flame-retardant pentabromodiphenyl ether (DE-71) in C57BL/6J mice. Toxicology 86:49–61

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Geyer HJ, Schramm K-W, Darnerud PO, Aune M, Feicht A, Fried KW, Henkelmann B, Lenoir D, Schmid P, McDonald TA (2004) Terminal elimination half-lives of the brominated flame retardants TBBPA, HBCD, and lower brominated PBDEs in humans. Organohalogen Comp 66:3867–3872

    Google Scholar 

  • Hites RA (2004) Polybrominated diphenyl ethers in the environment and in people: a meta-analysis of concentrations. Environ Sci Technol 38:945–956

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Ikonomou MG, Rayne S, Addison RF (2002) Exponential increases of the brominated flame retardants, polybrominated diphenyl ethers, in the Canadian Arctic from 1981 to 2000. Environ Sci Technol 36:1886–1892

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Iwamoto T, Nozawa S, Yoshiike M, Hoshino T, Baba K, Matsushita T, Tanaka SN, Naka M, Skakkebaek NE, Jorgensen N (2006) Semen quality of 324 fertile Japanese men. Hum Reprod 21:760–765

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Kuriyama SN, Talsness CE, Grote K, Chahoud I (2005) Developmental exposure to low dose PBDE 99: effects on male fertility and neurobehavior in rat offspring. Environ Health Perspect 113:149–154

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • La Guardia MJ, Hale RC, Harvey E (2006) Detailed polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) congener composition of the widely used penta-, octa-, and deca-PBDE technical flame-retardant mixtures. Environ Sci Technol 40:6247–6254

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Meerts IA, Letcher RJ, Hoving S, Marsh G, Bergman Å, Lemmen JG, van der Burg B, Brouwer A (2001) In vitro estrogenicity of polybrominated diphenyl ethers, hydroxylated PBDEs, and polybrominated bisphenol A compounds. Environ Health Perspect 109:399–407

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Meironyté D, Norén K, Bergman Å (1999) Analysis of polybrominated diphenyl ethers in Swedish human milk. A time-related trend study, 1972–1997. J Toxicol Environ Health A 58:329–341

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ministry of the Environment, Japan (2006) Regarding brominated flame retardants (reference data 3). In: report on the survey of emissions of brominated dioxins and related compounds in fiscal year 2004. (in Japanese). Available: [accessed 20 June, 2007]

  • Viberg H, Fredriksson A, Eriksson P (2004) Investigations of strain and/or gender differences in developmental neurotoxic effects of polybrominated diphenyl ethers in mice. Toxicol Sci 81:344–353

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • World Health Organization (1999) WHO laboratory manual for the examination of human semen and sperm-cervical mucus interaction, 4th edn. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

    Google Scholar 

  • Zhou T, Taylor MM, DeVito MJ, Crofton KM (2002) Developmental exposure to brominated diphenyl ethers results in thyroid hormone disruption. Toxicol Sci 66:105–116

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

Download references


We thank the participants who donated their blood and semen samples. This study was supported by grants from the Ministry of the Environment and the Ministry of the Health, Labor and Welfare, Japan.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to K. Akutsu.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Akutsu, K., Takatori, S., Nozawa, S. et al. Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers in Human Serum and Sperm Quality. Bull Environ Contam Toxicol 80, 345–350 (2008).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • Polybrominated diphenyl ethers
  • Flame retardants
  • Human serum
  • Sperm