Scientists create ‘digital roadmap’ to unlock male infertility

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 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.

UTSA’s new digital gene expression library 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.

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