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Volume 14, Issue 1 (January 2012) 14, 24–31; 10.1038/aja.2011.59

Mechanisms and clinical correlates of sperm DNA damage

Lara Tamburrino, Sara Marchiani, Margarita Montoya, Francesco Elia Marino, Ilaria Natali, Marta Cambi, Gianni Forti, Elisabetta Baldi and Monica Muratori

Department of Clinical Physiopathology, Andrology Unit, and Center of Excellence ‘DeNothe’, University of Florence, 650139 Florence, Italy

Correspondence: Dr Elisabetta Baldi, (elisabetta.baldi@unifi.it)

Received 19 May 2011; Revised 22 June 2011; Accepted 26 August 2011; Published online 5 December 2011


Among the different DNA anomalies that can be present in the male gamete, DNA fragmentation is the most frequent, particularly in infertile subjects. There is now consistent evidence that a sperm containing fragmented DNA can be alive, motile, morphologically normal and able to fertilize an oocyte. There is also evidence that the oocyte is able to repair DNA damage; however, the extent of this repair depends on the type of DNA damage present in the sperm, as well as on the quality of the oocyte. Thus, it is important to understand the possible consequences of sperm DNA fragmentation (SDF) for embryo development, implantation, pregnancy outcome and the health of progeny conceived, both naturally and by assisted reproductive technology (ART). At present, data on the consequences of SDF for reproduction are scarce and, in many ways, inconsistent. The differences in study conclusions might result from the different methods used to detect SDF, the study design and the inclusion criteria. Consequently, it is difficult to decide whether SDF testing should be carried out in fertility assessment and ART. It is clear that there is an urgent need for the standardisation of the methods and for additional clinical studies on the impact of SDF on ART outcomes.

Keywords: assisted reproduction; COMET; DNA fragmentation; ICSI; in vitro fertilization-embryo transfer; sperm chromatin structure assay; spermatozoa; TUNEL

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