COVID-19 and male reproductive function: a prospective, longitudinal cohort study

in Reproduction
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  • 1 Department of Exercise Physiology and Sports Therapy, Kugelberg 62, Justus-Liebig-University, Giessen, Germany
  • 2 Department of Sports Injuries, Faculty of Physical Education and Sports Sciences, Allameh Tabataba’i University, Tehran, Iran

Correspondence should be addressed to B Hajizadeh Maleki; Email: hajizadeh.sci.phys@gmail.com
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The existing evidence suggests that the human reproductive system may be potentially vulnerable to COVID-19 infection. However, little is known about the virus–host interaction of COVID-19 in sperm cells. We are the first to address the connection between changes in multiple seminal biomarkers and reproductive function in male patients recovering from COVID-19. In a prospective longitudinal cohort study, seminal ACE2 activity, markers of inflammation and oxidative stress, apoptotic variables, and semen quality parameters were evaluated at 10-day intervals for a maximum follow-up time of 60 days among male patients with laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 (n = 84) and healthy controls (CON; n = 105). At the baseline and the subsequent follow-ups, the COVID-19 group revealed significantly higher levels of seminal plasma ACE2 enzymatic activity, IL-1β, IL-6, IL-8, IL-10, TGF-β, TNF-α, IFN-α, IFN-γ, ROS, caspase-8, caspase-9, and caspase-3 activity as well as lower levels of SOD activity than those in the CON group (P  < 0.05). These perturbations tended to persist over time and were correlated with significant impairments in semen volume, progressive motility, sperm morphology, sperm concentration, and the number of spermatozoa. We provide the direct experimental evidence that the male reproductive system could be targeted and damaged by the COVID-19 infection. These findings go beyond our current understanding of the disease, suggesting that the reproductive function of the patients recovering from the disease should be precisely followed and evaluated to detect and avoid more serious reproductive problems in the future, as they may develop a transient state of male subfertility like those with oligoasthenoteratozoospermia.

 

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