Seminiferous tubule molecular imaging for evaluation of male fertility: Seeing is believing.Tissue Cell 2019; 58:24-32TC
The proper assessment of male fertility is essential for diagnosing and treating male infertility. Currently, spermiogram and Johnsen testicular biopsy score counts are used to assess male fertility. However, spermiogram is not a suitable option for non-obstructive azoospermia patients, and Johnsen testicular biopsy scores only represent localized and not the overall spermatogenesis. Whole-mount staining was a novel method for evaluating protein expression in the tissue. Thus, we explored its application in human seminiferous tubules. Testicular biopsies from 57 azoospermia patients were categorized as obstructive azoospermia (OA), maturation arrest (MA) and Sertoli-cells only syndrome (SCOS). We performed whole-mount staining of their seminiferous tubules and evaluated the spermatogonial stem cells (SSCs), differentiated spermatogonia (SG), spermatocytes (SPC) and spermatids (SD) with their respective markers (GFRA1, CD117, SYCP3, and PNA) to assess fertility. GFRA1, CD117, SYCP3, and PNA were not expressed in SCOS patients, whereas all of them were detected in OA patients. In MA patients with arrested spermatogenesis at the SPC stage, GFRA1, CD117, and SYCP3, but not PNA were expressed in the seminiferous tubules. In MA patients with arrested spermatogenesis at the spermatogonia stage, only GFRA1 was expressed in the seminiferous tubules. These results were consistent with the Johnsen testicular biopsy score counts except for one patient, where although only Sertoli cells were indicated by the score, SSCs were also detected in the whole-mounts. Collectively, whole-mount staining could be used to analyze the inherent spermatogenesis of seminiferous tubules through staining of germ cells at different stages. It offers a more accurate and promising faster method for assessing male fertility compared with traditional biopsy screening. And it could have potential value for the clinical purpose for male fertility management.