SPOKANE, Wash. — A Spokane study evaluating the effect of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (such as Prozac and Celexa) on sperm DNA integrity has generated international interest, according to Joanna Ellington and Clarke St. Dennis of Washington State University Spokane, the study’s lead investigators.

“We are currently receiving e-mail from all around the world from couples who have had trouble conceiving while the male partner has been on SSRI antidepressants. Based on our preliminary data, several individuals have gone ahead and sent in sperm samples to study collaborator Dr. Don Evenson for the sperm chromatin analysis, which determines the level of damaged DNA in sperm,” states Ellington. “Several men in this anecdotal group have had high levels of chromatin damage which decreased by approximately one half once they were no longer on the medication.”

Sperm DNA damage is critical because it has been correlated with fertilization failure, miscarriages of pregnancies, and even childhood diseases. In fact, sperm DNA damage from smoking has been cited as causing a fourfold increase in levels of childhood cancer. Likewise, according to Dr. Evenson, recent data suggest that more than 50% of the time couples with a history of repeated miscarriage may be struggling with sperm DNA damage problems.

It is currently known that chemotherapy drugs and environmental toxins can cause sperm chromatin damage. However, the possible role of more commonly used pharmaceutical agents has not been well studied. More than 3 million men of reproductive age are currently taking SSRIs for depression. In order to confirm or deny their hypothesis of a link between SSRI therapy and sperm DNA damage, Ellington and St. Dennis are asking men with depression to participate in the study. In particular, they are looking for men who are thinking about beginning antidepressant medications, so they can look at sperm DNA before and after medication.

Participants will receive monthly depression monitoring, detailed sperm analysis including DNA damage monitoring, and up to $300 of cash for participation. Ellington says, “We are eager to complete study enrollment as soon as possible, to reject or accept our hypothesis, as we feel that this is an issue of critical public health importance.”

Men interested in participating in the study may call (509) 358-7637 for information. The study will continue over the course of two years.

News release on study’s NIH funding: wsunews.wsu.edu/detail.asp?StoryID=3039 (May 13, 2002)