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Adverse health effects and mechanisms of microplastics on female reproductive system: a descriptive review

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Abstract

Microplastics (MPs), with a diameter of less than 5 mm, include polymers such as polystyrene, polypropylene, and polyethylene. The MPs occur in different morphologies including fragments, beads, fibers, and films that are swallowed by fresh water and land-based animals and enter their food chain, where they produce hazardous effects such as uterine toxicity, infertility, and neurotoxicity. The aim of this review is to explore the effects of polystyrene MPs (PS-MPs) on the female reproductive system and understand the mechanisms by which they produce reproductive toxicity. Several studies suggested that the exposure to PS-MPs increased the probability of larger ovaries with fewer follicles, decreased the number of embryos produced, and decreased the number of pregnancies in female mice. It also changed sex hormone levels and caused oxidative stress, which could have an impact on fertility and reproduction. Exposure to PS-MPs caused the death of granulosa cells through apoptosis and pyroptosis via activation of the NLRP3/caspase pathway and disruption of the Wnt-signaling pathway. Activation of TL4/NOX2 caused the uterine fibrosis resulting in endometrium thinning. The PS-MPs had a negative impact on ovarian capacity, oocyte maturation, and oocyte quality. Furthermore, the PS-MPs disrupted the hypothalamus-pituitary–gonadal axis in marine animals, resulting in a decrease in hatching rate and offspring body size, causing trans-generational effects. It also reduced fecundity and produced germ-line apoptosis. The main focus of this review was to explore the different mechanisms and pathways through which PS-MPs adversely impact the female reproductive system.

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VA: literature search, formal analysis, methodology, writing original draft. KH: literature search, formal analysis, methodology, review. RN: literature search, formal analysis, methodology, review. AS: literature search, formal analysis, methodology, review. MIK: literature search, formal analysis, methodology, review. MFA: conceptualization, supervision, formal analysis, methodology, writing original draft.

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Correspondence to Muhammad Furqan Akhtar.

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Afreen, V., Hashmi, K., Nasir, R. et al. Adverse health effects and mechanisms of microplastics on female reproductive system: a descriptive review. Environ Sci Pollut Res 30, 76283–76296 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11356-023-27930-1

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