Apoptotic markers in ejaculated human spermatozoa
Brooks, Nicole Lisa
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The role of male germ cell death in spermatogenesis is an important one as it removes dysfunctional or genetically damaged germ cells and is necessary to maintain an optimal germ cell to Sertoli cell ratio. The formation of the bloodtestis barrier requires the elimination of excessive germ cells and a surge of germ cell apoptosis occurs prior to puberty regulating the ratio of germ cells to Sertoli cells. The aim of this study was to evaluate the presence of four apoptotic markers on sperm from patients with various grades of fertility using flow cytometry. Furthermore, any correlations between the apoptotic marker assays and the standard semen analysis results were identified. This study compares early and late parameters of apoptosis with morphological features in spermatozoa in the same samples. The three sample groups were identified as: teratozoospermic [G-pattern] (n=26), teratozoospermic [P-pattern] (n=98) and oligoteratozoospermic [Ppattern] (n=36). Standard semen analysis was conducted on the semen samples according to the WHO guidelines. Four apoptotic marker assays using flow cytometry was applied in this study to examine the apoptotic alterations in ejaculate sperm. These assays included the Annexin-V staining for the determination of phosphatidylserine exposure, APO-Direct to identify DNA fragmentation, caspase-3 to detect expression of this active protease during early apoptosis and Fas expression. For the Annexin-V and caspase-3 assays, statistically significant differences (P<0.05) were evident between the three groups. No significant differences (P>0.05) were found between the groups with respect to the APO-Direct assay. A significant difference (P<0.05) was found when comparing the teratozoospermic [G-pattern] group and the oligoteratozoospermic [P-pattern] group for the Fas assay. A strong positive correlation was evident between the Fas and the caspase-3 assays in the teratozoospermic [G-pattern] group. For the teratozoospermic [P-pattern group] the following positive correlations existed between the APO-Direct and the Fas assays, APO-Direct and caspase-3 assays and between caspase-3 and Fas assays. The only strong positive correlation was between the caspase-3 and APO-Direct assays in the oligoteratozoospermic [P-pattern] group. The presence of spermatozoa showing microscopic features resembling apoptosis has been identified in ten human ejaculate samples per sample group. Electron microscopy was used to identify morphological features of apoptosis in these human sperm samples. Classical apoptosis as observed in diploid cells could be identified in sperm and these included: loose fibrillarmicrogranular chromatin network, presence of vacuoles in the nuclear chromatin, membranous bodies within the vacuoles of the chromatin, partially disrupted nuclear membranes, plasma membrane protuberances and apoptotic bodies containing cytoplasmic vacuoles and dense masses. This study has confirmed that semen samples with abnormal semen parameters exhibit the presence of apoptotic markers in sperm. The identification of apoptotic markers on the sperm suggests that abnormalities occur during their developmental process, however, the exact mechanism thereof remains unclear. These findings may suggest that certain apoptotic markers may be an indicator of abnormal sperm function and possibly indicative of male infertility.