DNA - Strand breaks

In approx. 20 % of all couples no visible abnormalities can be found. The conventional tests (semen analysis, hormonal status, tubal examination) show normal results yet no pregnancy occurs. In these cases idiopathic infertility or “unexplained” sterility is commonly the cause.

Recent research has shown that changes in the hereditary information (DNA) of the sperm cells can reduce their ability to fertilize the ovum. In very drastic cases a healthily developed embryo cannot be formed.

The conventional examination of semen is the semen analysis. This yields results on the amount, the motility, and the form (morphology) of the sperm cells. Genetic changes cannot be determined via semen analysis.

Changes in the hereditary information during the sperm cell maturation can be caused by inflammations, medication (pain killers, cortisone, etc.), environmental poisons (pesticides etc.), smoking, aging, irradiation- or chemotherapy, thermal damage etc.

How do genetic defects influence fertility?

The greater the presence of sperm cells with a genetic disorder, the lesser the probability of spontaneous pregnancy. The sperm cells are not able to fertilize the egg cell on their own and the congenital disorder rate rises.

You can actively help to avoid DNA damage or to improve current poor results if you take into account the following:

  • Avoidance of reproductive poisons (cigarette smoke, medication)
  • Therapy through oral intake of antioxidants (vitamin E, C)
  • Treatment of possible infections of the ejaculate
  • Surgical reconstruction of a varicose vein in the testicles

Are there tests for DNA damage in sperm cells?

YES, for the first time in Austria we have established a sperm cell test for possible genetic changes (DNA breaks) together with the laboratory of the St. Anna Children Hospital (St. Anna Children Cancer Research Institute).

This test is called SCSA (Sperm Chromatin Structure Assay) and gives information about chromatin defects and thus indirect information about the sperm cells’ potential of fertilization. It is performed together with the SpermFertilityCheck.

The Sperm Fertility Check can:

  • offer valuable insight into the quality of a sperm sample and whether this is the reason for an unfulfilled desire for children
  • help shorten the diagnosis and treatment phase
  • help to asses the suitable treatment for infertility
  • possibly spare you useless therapies and consequently save time and money
  • help shorten the way towards achieving pregnancy

We recommend the SpermFertilityCheck:

  • for idiopathic sterility (causes of infertility are unknown)
  • before starting an insemination cycle

Please note that illnesses with high fever can distort or falsify the test results. In such cases we recommend waiting 2 months to do the examination. Furthermore we need a minimum number of sperm cells in order to conduct a meaningful SCSA analysis.

What are the threshold values and what do they mean?

Less than 15% DNA fragmentation (DFI smaller than 15 %): normal test result (High DNA integrity, there is no connection with reduced success rates in fertility treatments or natural fertilization on the male part)

More than 30% DNA fragmentation (DFI larger than 30%): abnormal test result (A spontaneous pregnancy is extremely unlikely, there is a higher risk of miscarriage as well as a significantly lower pregnancy rate after insemination. A slightly improved pregnancy rate occurs after IVF or ICSI procedures)

DNA Fragmentation between 15 and 30% (DFI 15 – 30%): threshold result (With this result the chances of spontaneous pregnancy are already reduced, meaning the time frame until the achievement of pregnancy is increased. Depending on other factors (age, length of unfulfilled desire for children, possible other factors) the further treatment should be planned accordingly)