Evidence for the effect of occupational exposure to lead on the male endocrine system is conflicting. This study evaluated the primary (testicular) and secondary (hypothalamo pituitary testicular) effects of exposure to lead in 122 current lead workers and 49 non-exposed workers. The mean current blood lead concentration was 35.2 (range 9.6-77.4) micrograms/dl in the exposed workers, and 8.3 (range 2.6-14.8) micrograms/dl in the non-exposed workers. Concentrations of plasma luteinising hormone (LH) and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) were both significantly higher in the exposed workers, but testosterone (T) was not significantly different between the two groups. In older exposed workers, however (greater than or equal to 40 years), plasma T concentrations were significantly lower, but LH and FSH concentrations were not significantly different. Compared with non-exposed workers, those exposed for less than 10 years had significantly raised LH and FSH and normal T concentrations whereas those exposed for 10 or more years had significantly lower T, and normal LH and FSH concentrations. The concentrations of LH and FSH showed a moderate increase in relation to blood lead concentrations in the range of 10 micrograms/dl to 40 micrograms/dl and thereafter reached a plateau or declined. No apparent trend for plasma T concentrations occurred. No significant difference in prolactin (PRL) concentration was noted. It is concluded that moderate exposure to lead was associated in dose related fashion with small but measurable changes in male endocrine functions that reflected both primary and secondary effects of lead on the testes and the hypothalamo pituitary testicular axis.
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