Previous studies have shown that inhalation of welding fumes may induce pulmonary and systemic inflammation and organ accumulation of metal, to which spermatogenesis and endocrine function may be sensitive. Also obesity may induce low-grade systemic inflammation. This study aimed to investigate the effects on sperm production of inhaled metal nanoparticles from stainless steel welding, and the potential exacerbation by intake of a high fat diet. Both the inbred Brown Norway and the outbred Sprague Dawley rat strains were included to study the influence of strain on the detection of toxicity. Rats were fed regular or high fat (HF) diet for 24 weeks and were exposed to 20 mg/m3 of gas metal arc-stainless steel (GMA-SS) welding fumes or filtered air for 3 h/day, 4 days/week for 5 weeks, during weeks 7–12. Outcomes were assessed upon termination of exposure (week 12) and after recovery (week 24).
At week 12, the GMA-SS exposure induced pulmonary inflammation in both strains, without consistent changes in markers of systemic inflammation (CRP, MCP-1, IL-6 and TNFα). GMA-SS exposure lowered daily sperm production compared to air controls in Sprague Dawley rats, but only in GMA-SS Brown Norway rats also fed the HF diet. Overall, HF diet rats had lower serum testosterone levels compared to rats on regular diet. Metal content in the testes was assessed in a limited number of samples in Brown Norway rats, but no increase was obsedrved. At week 24, bronchoalveolar lavage cell counts had returned to background levels for GMA-SS exposed Sprague Dawley rats but remained elevated in Brown Norway rats. GMA-SS did not affect daily sperm production statistically significantly at this time point, but testicular weights were lowered in GMA-SS Sprague Dawley rats. Serum testosterone remained lowered in Sprague Dawley rats fed the HF diet.
Exposure to GMA-SS welding fumes lowered sperm production in two strains of rats, whereas high fat diet lowered serum testosterone. The effect on sperm counts was likely not mediated by inflammation or lowered testosterone levels. The studied reproductive outcomes seemed more prone to disruption in the Sprague Dawley compared to the Brown Norway strain.