Enzymatic tissue processing after testicular biopsy in non-obstructive azoospermia enhances sperm retrieval

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STUDY QUESTION: What is the added value of enzymatic processing of testicular biopsies on testicular sperm retrieval (SR) rates for patients with non-obstructive azoospermia (NOA)?

SUMMARY ANSWER: In addition to mechanical mincing, enzymatic digestion increased SR rates in testicular biopsies of NOA patients.

WHAT IS KNOWN ALREADY: Many studies focus on the surgical approach to optimize recovery of testicular sperm in NOA, and in spite of that, controversy still exists about whether the type of surgery makes any difference as long as multiple biopsies are taken. Few studies, however, focus on the role of the IVF laboratory and the benefit of additional lab procedures, e.g. enzymatic digestion, in order to optimize SR rates.

STUDY DESIGN SIZE DURATION: This retrospective single-center cohort study included all patients who underwent their first testicular sperm extraction (TESE) by open multiple-biopsy method between January 2004 and July 2022. Only patients with a normal karyotype, absence of Y-q deletions and a diagnosis of NOA based on histology were included. The primary outcome was SR rate after mincing and/or enzymes. The secondary outcome was cumulative live birth (CLB) after ICSI with fresh TESE and subsequent ICSI cycles with frozen TESE.

PARTICIPANTS/MATERIALS SETTING METHODS: Multiple biopsies were obtained from the testis, unilaterally or bilaterally, on the day of oocyte retrieval. Upon mechanical mincing, biopsies were investigated for 30 min; when no or insufficient numbers of spermatozoa were observed, enzymatic treatment was performed using Collagenase type IV. Multivariable regression analysis was performed to predict CLB per TESE by adjusting for the following confounding factors: male FSH level, female age, and requirement of enzymatic digestion to find sperm.

MAIN RESULTS AND THE ROLE OF CHANCE: We included 118 patients, of whom 72 (61.0%) had successful SR eventually. Spermatozoa were retrieved after mechanical mincing for 28 patients (23.7%; 28/118) or after additional enzymatic digestion for another 44 patients (37.2%; 44/118). Thus, of the 90 patients requiring enzymatic digestion, sperm were retrieved for 44 (48.9%). Male characteristics were not different between patients with SR after mincing or enzymatic digestion, in regard to mean age (34.5 vs 34.5 years), testis volume (10.2 vs 10.6 ml), FSH (17.8 vs 16.9 IU/l), cryptorchidism (21.4 vs 34.1%), varicocele (3.6 vs 4.6%), or histological diagnosis (Sertoli-cell only 53.6 vs 47.7%, maturation arrest 21.4 vs 38.6%, sclerosis/atrophy 25.0 vs 13.6%).Of the 72 patients with sperm available for ICSI, 23/72 (31.9%) achieved a live birth (LB) after the injection with fresh testicular sperm (and fresh or frozen embryo transfers). Of the remaining 49 patients without LB, 34 (69.4%) had supernumerary testicular sperm frozen. Of these 34 patients, 19 (55.9%) continued ICSI with frozen testicular sperm, and 9/19 (47.4%) had achieved an LB after ICSI with frozen testicular sperm. Thus, the total CLB was 32/118 (27.1%) per TESE or 32/72 (44.4%) per TESE with sperm retrieved.Of the female characteristics (couples with sperm available), only female age (30.3 vs 32.7 years; P = 0.042) was significantly lower in the group with a LB, compared to those without.The CLB with testicular sperm obtained after enzymatic digestion was 31.8% (14/44), while the CLB with sperm obtained after mincing alone was 64.3% (18/28). Multivariable logistic regression analysis showed that when enzymatic digestion was required, it was associated with a significant decrease in CLB per TESE (OR: 0.23 (0.08-0.7); P = 0.01).

LIMITATIONS REASONS FOR CAUTION: Limitations of the study are related to the retrospective design. However, the selection of only patients with NOA, and specific characteristics (normal karyotype and absence Y-q deletion) and having their first TESE, strengthens our findings.

WIDER IMPLICATIONS OF THE FINDINGS: Enzymatic processing increases the SR rate from testicular biopsies of NOA patients compared to mechanical mincing only, demonstrating the importance of an appropriate laboratory protocol. However, NOA patients should be counseled that when sperm have been found after enzymatic digestion, their chances to father a genetically own child may be lower compared to those not requiring enzymatic digestion.



Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)hoad039
Number of pages8
JournalHuman reproduction open
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2023

Bibliographical note

© The Author(s) 2023. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology.


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