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Home > Research Articles > WSU Study to Test Damage to Sperm by Antidepressants

Journal of Business

Sunday, June 30, 2002

Washington State University Study to Test Damage to Sperm by Antidepressants Journal of Business - June 29, 2002 Two researchers at Washington State University's Spokane campus have received a federal grant for an interdisciplinary study on the effects of a common class of antidepressants on men's reproductive health.

The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development awarded the $143,000 grant to Joanna Ellington and Clarke St. Dennis. Ellington is an associate professor and director of biomedical development at WSU-Spokane's Health Research and Education Center. St. Dennis is an assistant professor of pharmacotherapy for WSU-Spokane's college of pharmacy.

The researchers will look at the effects of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, called SSRIs, on sperm function, including their impact on the genetic material that sperm contains.

SSRIs are the most commonly prescribed antidepressants in the U.S., and examples of them include such brands as Prozac, Zoloft, and Paxil. The researchers estimate that 4 million American men of reproductive age take SSRIs.

Ellington says the study is important because it brings together researchers with different specialties. "Few reproductive physiologists would ever communicate across disciplines with a psychopharmacologist to begin to identify a relationship between depression medication and possible poor sperm function," she says.

Preliminary work between Ellington and St. Dennis showed that about half of all men taking SSRIs experience some sexual dysfunction. They believe that problem may be tied to hormonal changes the drugs cause in men's bodies.

In her reproductive work, Ellington says she saw a marked increase in damage to the genetic material of one donor's sperm after the man began taking SSRIs. Studies have shown that such genetic damage is linked to infertility, miscarriage, birth defects, and childhood diseases, she says. The Food and Drug Administration doesn't require that medications be tested for their effect on sperm.

The study will include 40 men, between the ages of 20 and 45, who have been diagnosed with mild to moderate depression but haven't begun taking medication for it.