Background: Prenatal exposures may contribute to male infertility in adult life, but large-scale epidemiological evidence is still lacking. The Fetal Programming of Semen quality (FEPOS) cohort was founded to provide means to examine if fetal exposures can interfere with fetal reproductive development and ultimately lead to reduced semen quality and reproductive hormone imbalances in young adult men.
Methods: Young adult men at least 18 years and 9 months of age born to women in the Danish National Birth Cohort living in relative proximity to Copenhagen or Aarhus and for whom a maternal blood sample and two maternal interviews during pregnancy were available were invited to FEPOS. Recruitment began in March 2017 and ended in December 2019. The participants answered a comprehensive questionnaire and underwent a physical examination where they delivered a semen, urine, and hair sample, measured their own testicular volume, and had blood drawn.
Results: In total 21,623 sons fulfilled eligibility criteria of whom 5697 were invited and 1058 participated making the response rate 19%. Semen characteristics did not differ between sons from the Copenhagen and Aarhus clinics. When comparing the FEPOS semen parameters to similar cohorts, the median across all semen characteristics was slightly lower for FEPOS participants, although with smaller variation.
Conclusion: With its 1058 young adult men, the FEPOS cohort is the largest population-based male-offspring cohort worldwide specifically designed to investigate prenatal determinants of semen quality. Wide-ranging information on maternal health, lifestyle, socioeconomic status, occupation, and serum concentrations of potential reproductive toxicants during pregnancy combined with biological markers of fertility in their sons collected after puberty allow for in-depth investigations of the 'fetal origins of adult disease hypothesis'.