Research identifies sperm biomarker associated with couples’ pregnancy probability — ScienceDaily


Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst have identified a single-measure biomarker in sperm mitochondrial DNA that may predict male reproductive health and pregnancy success.

The discovery applies not just to couples seeking care for infertility but also for the general population. This biomarker could become a more accurate predictor of male infertility than semen parameters, on which health care organizations and clinicians have long relied.

“Clinically, the diagnosis of male infertility really hasn’t changed in decades,” says UMass Amherst environmental epigeneticist Richard Pilsner, corresponding author of the study published today, Oct. 6, in the journal Human Reproduction. “In the last 10 to 20 years, there have been major advances in the understanding of the molecular and cellular functions of sperm, but the clinical diagnosis hasn’t changed or caught up.”

In addition to Pilsner, the team of UMass researchers included lead author Allyson Rosati, who wrote the paper as part of her undergraduate honors thesis and recently completed a master’s in molecular and cellular biology; Brian Whitcomb, associate professor of epidemiology in the School of Public Health and Health Sciences. They collaborated with reproductive and perinatal epidemiologist Germaine Buck Louis, dean of the College of Health and Human Services at George Mason University, and Sunni Mumford and Enrique Schisterman at the National Institute of Child Health & Human Development.

“This project is a really nice example of interdisciplinary work and team science,” Whitcomb says. “This research required measurement of biomarkers in the laboratory combined with statistical modeling. Answering scientific questions like this one benefits from a broad range of expertise.”

Mitochondrial DNA is maternally inherited, and sperm mitochondrial DNA copy number (mtDNAcn) typically decreases eight-to-10 fold during spermatogenesis to ensure that it is low upon fertilization. In previous research by Pilsner, Whitcomb and others, increased mtDNAcn and mitochondrial DNA