Sperm lipid profile may shed light on male infertility

Posted December 3, 2019

By classifying characteristics of male reproductive cell, researchers expect to foster the development of new tests and treatments

A study being conducted by INCT Hormona at its unit in Universidade de São Paulo, in the city of Ribeirão Preto, Brazil, aims to expand knowledge on male infertility by characterizing sperm lipid profiles. Based on information from observation and comparison of different characteristics, researchers expect to lead the way for the development of new diagnostic methods and new treatment techniques. “Infertility is a disease affecting nearly 15% of couples at reproductive age. It is a highly-prevalent adverse health condition that has a significant impact on the life of these people,” points out the responsible for the study, Professor Doctor Paula Navarro.

The researcher explains that the main test used to determine semen quality and thus to try to determine whether the problem is influenced by the male factor, is semen analysis. This test evaluates both macroscopic parameters, such as semen volume, color and viscosity, and microscopic parameters, such as sperm quantity and vitality. “However, this technique has limitations. Semen analysis alone is not sufficient to determine a diagnosis of male infertility. Although there is a great correlation, it is not unusual that men with results for semen analysis considered normal have difficulty in getting their partner pregnant, as well as men with an abnormal semen analysis may not have this difficulty,” describes the researcher.

Dr. Navarro highlights that, even when patients are properly diagnosed, little can be done to reverse their condition and increase the likelihood of pregnancy besides using assisted reproduction techniques, which usually have very high financial and emotional costs. “Therefore, the search for better understanding factors related to male fertility is crucial for future development of a more efficient test to determine infertility and, possibly, of a therapeutic method that help reverse or mitigate this conditions,” states the physician.

According to her, one of main lines of research focused on the promotion of advances in this area is represented by studies on genetic and molecular levels of sperm. “Due to the recent technological development, it is currently possible to conduct thorough studies on the structural and metabolic composition of sperms, which may contribute to qualify understanding on the functioning of these cells. Our current work is designed to characterized the sperm lipid profile of fertile and subfertile men using cutting-edge technology in mass spectrometry and an analysis method developed in the American university of Purdue, which is our partner in this initiative,” reveals the researcher.

Paula Navarro notes that lipids play a major role in the composition of membranes and determine many sperm physicochemical properties. The integrity of plasma membrane and its components, according to the researches, is directly related to fertilization capacity; similarly, lipid composition of sperm cells may also be related to maintenance of metabolic balance, influencing in oxidative stress levels, a condition that has a known influence on sperm quality but has an uncertain origin.

“Thus, the aim of our ongoing study is to provide an accurate and reliable list of lipids present in the sperm of fertile and subfertile men that may serve as a database for future studies to analyze the direct effect of possible treatments (medications, diets, etc.) on the lipid composition of these cells. Moreover, the comparison of the two groups (fertile and subfertile individuals) may help identify possible biomarkers of sperm quality and guide the development of a new diagnostic method and, possibly, of a therapeutic method,” defines the researcher.


As relevant as the challenges in understanding male infertility from the scientific point of view, the cultural factor imposed by the sexist behavior standards of society is also an important paradigm to be broken. “Infertility is a marital issue. It is not the responsibility of one partner or the other. One often sees women seeking medical guidance on the matter, unaccompanied by their partners. This is not the ideal condition,” warns the researcher Paula Navarro.

The physician explains that the hypothesis of infertility is considered after a minimum period of one year of unsuccessful attempts to achieve pregnancy. “Based on this condition, properly advised by a physician, both the man and the woman should begin assessments on their reproductive health to deal together with this very delicate issue that is so important for their lives,” advises the investigator.

Dr. Navarro says she recognizes that investigation on fertility is still a taboo for men and states she believes that changing this cultural component is a challenge that should be faced with education and information. “It is not embarrassing not being able to get pregnant. It is a health issue for which no one should be blamed, either the man or the woman. Medicine and science work permanently in the search for better resources to help these people,” concludes the researcher.

READ THE ARTICLE:  https://www.fertstert.org/article/S0015-0282(18)31445-6/abstract