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Basic and Clinical Andrology

Open Access

The treatment of obstructive azoospermia by intracytoplasmic sperm injection

AndrologieJournal officiel de la Société d’andrologie de langue française16:BF03034829


Intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) allows the treatment of virtually every type of male infertility. Unlike in vitro fertilization (IVF), its success does not depend on sperm concentration, motility or morphology and most of the physical barriers to fertilisation are by-passes. Since ICSI does not require strongly motile sperm, its use has now been expanded to incorporate immature sperm from the testes and epididymides. Successful fertilisation, pregnancies and healthy babies have all been reported. However, concerns about the safety of ICSI remain due to its short clinical history and the lack of testing on animal models.

Male fertility potential for assisted reproduction by ICSI cannot be measured by conventional parameters. Sperm DNA integrity is increasingly recognised as a more useful indicator. Studies have shown that sperm with higher levels of DNA damage have lower fertilisation rates after IVF and ICSI. Sperm with DNA damage above a certain threshold are associated with a longer time to conceive in otherwise apparently fertile couples and a higher miscarriage rate. DNA damage has been shown to be associated with impaired embryo cleavage. Our group has shown that sperm DNA from testicular sperm is less fragmented than that from epididymal sperm and suggest its preferred use in ICSI.

In addition to nuclear (n) DNA we also assessed the quality of mitochondrial (mt) DNA from testicular sperm from men with obstructive azoospermia undergoing ICSI. We observed that couples achieving a pregnancy had both less mtDNA deletions and less nDNA fragmentation. We found inverse relationships between pregnancy and sperm mtDNA deletion numbers, size and nDNA fragmentation. No relationships were observed with fertilisation rates. With this knowledge, we designed an algorithm for the prediction of pregnancy based on the quality of sperm nDNA and mtDNA.

Each year 40,000 men have a vasectomy in the UK but every year 2500 request a reversal to begin a second family. For such men, vasectomy reversal has recently been replaced in part by testicular biopsy via fine-needle testicular sperm aspiration (TESA) or percutaneous epididymal sperm aspiration (PESA) performed at an outpatient clinic and subsequently used in ICSI. Since these were previously fertile men it has been assumed that they had ‘fertile’ sperm. However the assited conception success rates of these mens partners has not been assessed until recently. We have shown a significant reduction in the clinical pregnancy rates in the partners of men who had had a vasectomy ≥10yrs previously. There is also evidence to suggest that spermatogenesis is significantly impaired in vasectomised men. Marked decreases in spermatocytes, spermatids and spermatozoa have been observed. We have found this to be associated with concomitant increases in apoptotic markers, such as Fas, FasL and Bax. The quality of the remaining sperm is also compromised. Sperm DNA from vasectomized men shows substantial damage which increases with time after surgery. This new use of ICSI will be discussed.

Key words

testicular spermobstructive azoospermiavasectomynuclear DNAmitochondrial DNA