Reproductive organs are essential not only for the life of an individual but also for the survival and development of the species. The response of reproductive organs to toxic substances differs from that of other target organs, and they may serve as an ideal “barometer” for the deleterious effects of environmental pollution on animal and human health. The incidence of infertility, cancers, and associated maladies has increased in the last fifty years or more, while various anthropogenic activities have released into the environment numerous toxic substances, including cadmium, lead, and mercury. Data from epidemiological studies suggested that environmental exposure to cadmium, lead, and mercury may have produced reproductive and developmental toxicity. The present review focused on experimental studies using rats, mice, avian, and rabbits to demonstrate unambiguously effects of cadmium, lead, or mercury on the structure and function of reproductive organs. In addition, relevant human studies are discussed. The experimental studies reviewed have indicated that the testis and ovary are particularly sensitive to cadmium, lead, and mercury because these organs are distinguished by an intense cellular activity, where vital processes of spermatogenesis, oogenesis, and folliculogenesis occur. In ovaries, manifestation of toxicity induced by cadmium, lead, or mercury included decreased follicular growth, occurrence of follicular atresia, degeneration of the corpus luteum, and alterations in cycle. In testes, toxic effects following exposure to cadmium, lead, or mercury included alterations of seminiferous tubules, testicular stroma, and decrease of spermatozoa count, motility and viability, and aberrant spermatozoa morphology.
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