A comparison of DNA damage in testicular and proximal epididymal spermatozoa in obstructive azoospermia

Testicular and epididymal spermatozoa are used routinely for intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) to treat men with obstructive azoospermia. Little is known of the effects of obstruction and stasis on the DNA of these spermatozoa, particularly in the epididymis where spermatozoa have been retained for long periods.

Surgical epididymal aspiration for ICSI could provide spermatozoa that are senescent or dying. Using the Comet assay, the percentage of undamaged DNA of testicular spermatozoa from 20 men with obstructive azoospermia was significantly better (83.0 􏰀 1.2%) than from proximal epididymal spermatozoa (75.4 􏰀2.3%; P < 0.05). There was no difference between the percentage of undamaged DNA of testicular spermatozoa from 39 men with obstructive azoospermia (84.0 􏰀 0.9) or from 10 fertile men at vasectomy (86.8 􏰀 1.8) or from ejaculated spermatozoa from five of the controls (78.9 􏰀 3.9; P > 0.05). In nine subjects, a second biopsy was carried out 6 months later. There was no significant difference in undamaged DNA on these two occasions (83.5 􏰀 5.6 and 84.1 􏰀 4.2; P > 0.05). This confirms the reproducibility of the Comet assay for non-ejaculated spermatozoa. Our data suggest that testicular sperm DNA appears to be significantly less damaged than epididymal sperm DNA, and so testicular spermatozoa should be used in preference for ICSI to treat men with obstructive azoospermia.