Nav: Home

UTSA constructs world's most comprehensive digital roadmap to unlock male infertility

November 07, 2018

(San Antonio, Nov. 7, 2018) -- Millions of couples who have trouble conceiving may get relief from new research led by scientists at The University of Texas at San Antonio. The researchers have developed a high-resolution genetic map showing how men produce sperm cells. Their effort could help address genetically based challenges with male fertility, a major cause of conception problems.

The researchers' findings reveal detailed information about which genes are turned on or off in stem cells that ultimately grow into sperm cells. This data could give doctors crucial insight into the development of sperm in a patient, a perspective that was lacking up until now.

UTSA researcher Brian Hermann says the new knowledge could be a game changer for uncovering what can go wrong in men who suffer from infertility.

"We took a new, cutting-edge approach down to the level of individual cells to understand all the changes in which genes are used to make sperm in the testicles. That previously had not been possible and impedes progress toward a cure for male infertility," said Hermann, a biology professor and director of the UTSA Genomics Core.

The findings appear in the November 6 edition of the scientific journal, Cell Reports. Professors Hermann and John R. McCarrey led the group, which included researchers at UTSA and across the country.

Together, the team built a comprehensive digital library of the cell types required for sperm production in mice and men. They examined more than 62,000 cells and identified 11 different gene expression profiles; their work even uncovered rare and new cells for which little data was previously reported. The research, which began in early 2014, was supported by the Kleberg Foundation, the Hurd Foundation and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

According to the NIH, reproduction issues in males contribute to at least half of infertility cases among couples. Many cases of male infertility are treated with medication. Some even require surgical procedures. Yet, in almost half of these same cases, the reasons for male infertility are unknown.

UTSA's digital roadmap was constructed using the sequencing of genes expressed in germ cells. The researchers used high-tech machines which allow scientists to examine tens of thousands of individual cells and produce the library of genes expressed in each cell in one to two days. The method also employed cutting-edge bioinformatics, data analytics that decode gene expression data generated from the cells.

UTSA's individualized approach to profiling gene expression at the single-cell level is what makes this work different. Previous methods have relied on analyzing groups of cells, but when they are bundled together in experiments, the differences among the individual cells are averaged and therefore obscured. Hence, UTSA's new approach provides important data that can help uncover the biology underlying how sperm are produced and what may go wrong in men who suffer from infertility.

"This is how we find the needles in the haystack," said Hermann. "We weren't previously able to separate different cells with different functions, so in order to understand exactly how they are different, we looked at individual single cells, instead of the typical way of grabbing them all in bulk as a group."

UTSA's new digital gene expression library offers many scientific applications. It could help improve clinical diagnoses in men with infertility because their gene expression "signatures" will be different than those in the normal men now described in this new database. The UTSA resource can also provide a foundation to help innovate the next generation of male contraception and to even potentially develop sperm outside the body.

The researchers are hopeful that the methodology can also be applied to other biological processes in the body in order to uncover new information on which to base novel approaches to diagnose, treat or prevent a wide variety of diseases.

"It's been a dream for decades to take the most primitive cells in the testis and convert them into sperm in a petri dish, yet this has never worked," said Hermann. "If anyone is going to generate sperm cells in a dish, they'd want to know how similar those cells are to those that occur naturally in the body. The data we have generated now provides a reference library for comparison."
-end-


University of Texas at San Antonio

Related Infertility Articles:

Chlamydia in testicular tissue linked to male infertility
The potential impact of undiagnosed sexually transmitted chlamydia infection on men's fertility has been highlighted in a study led by scientists at Queensland University of Technology (QUT), which for the first time found chlamydia in the testicular tissue biopsies of infertile men whose infertility had no identified cause.
Infertility's roots in DNA packaging
Japanese researchers find one cause of infertility is the incomplete development of the proteins packaging DNA in sperm cells.
Infertility is linked to small increased risk of cancer
A study of over 64,000 women of childbearing age in the USA has found that infertility is associated with a higher risk of developing cancer compared to a group of over three million women without fertility problems, although the absolute risk is very low at just 2 percent.
Breakthrough in understanding male infertility
Newcastle University experts have identified the importance of gene, RBMXL2, which is similar to an infertility gene found on the Y chromosome, in regulating the production of fully-functioning sperm.
Duration of infertility in men may affect sperm count
A longer duration of infertility was associated with lower sperm count and other parameters of impaired sperm in a BJU International study of 1644 infertile men.
More Infertility News and Infertility Current Events

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Erasing The Stigma
Many of us either cope with mental illness or know someone who does. But we still have a hard time talking about it. This hour, TED speakers explore ways to push past — and even erase — the stigma. Guests include musician and comedian Jordan Raskopoulos, neuroscientist and psychiatrist Thomas Insel, psychiatrist Dixon Chibanda, anxiety and depression researcher Olivia Remes, and entrepreneur Sangu Delle.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#537 Science Journalism, Hold the Hype
Everyone's seen a piece of science getting over-exaggerated in the media. Most people would be quick to blame journalists and big media for getting in wrong. In many cases, you'd be right. But there's other sources of hype in science journalism. and one of them can be found in the humble, and little-known press release. We're talking with Chris Chambers about doing science about science journalism, and where the hype creeps in. Related links: The association between exaggeration in health related science news and academic press releases: retrospective observational study Claims of causality in health news: a randomised trial This...