International research collaboration shines light on male infertility

Structural and biological changes in sperm identified

A condition  called globozoospermia   causes   sperm cells to form improperly

A condition called globozoospermia causes sperm cells to form improperly


Scientists in Ireland, Denmark and Germany have discovered the biological changes in faulty sperm cells that cause a form of male infertility. The findings should help in the development of a treatment for men.

The condition is called globozoospermia and it causes the sperm cells to form improperly. The cells lack the ability to produce the enzymes needed to penetrate into the egg to initiate fertilisation.

The typical research approach to infertility involves studying the biological pathways within the cells, but the team from NUI Maynooth’s department of biology, led by Prof Kay Ohlendieck, used a more technical route to solve the puzzle behind this form of infertility. “We took a technology-driven approach to studying the abnormalities in sperm,” he said.

Globozoospermia is relatively rare, affecting a reported 0.1 per cent of men, but it is one of a cluster of infertility forms related to sperm. “Male infertility is responsible for approximately 50 per cent of infertility cases, usually due to deficiencies in semen, so it is crucial that we have a better understanding of this field,” Prof Ohlendieck said.

“If we can better understand the pathology, we might eventually be able to help people with full globozoospermia.”

The researchers at Maynooth were joined on this three-year research effort by others from Aarhus University, Denmark, and the University of Bielefeld, Germany. The Irish contribution to the study was funded by the Higher Education Authority and the leading journal Proteomics published the results.

The team used advanced electron microscopes to examine the structural abnormalities in cells that lead to the rounded heads typical of this condition.

They did a mass study of all the proteins and biochemicals released by the sperm, looking for those associated with globozoospermia. They identified 40 that were contributors to the condition, based on the differences in each compared to what is seen in normal sperm.