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M Cambi, L Tamburrino, S Marchiani, B Olivito, C Azzari, G Forti, E Baldi, and M Muratori

Oxidative stress (OS) is involved in many disoders including male infertility. Human spermatozoa are very sensitive targets of reactive oxygen species (ROS) and most sperm functions are impaired in the case of OS. In addition unbalanced production of ROS is considered one of the most important causes of sperm DNA fragmentation, a semen trait of infertile men. The relationship between oxidative damage and semen quality is partially controversial, probably due to the different methods and/or targets used to reveal the OS. In this study, by fluorescence microscopy and flow cytometry, we compared two methods to reveal 8-hydroxy,2-deoxyguanosine (8-OHdG), the hallmark of oxidative DNA damage: an immunofluorescence method and the commercial OxyDNA kit. We found that although both methods localized the labelling in sperm nuclei they yielded different measures, and only with the immunofluorescence method was the labelling specific for sperm 8-OHdG. The immunofluorescence method, coupled to flow cytometry, was thus selected to analyse the 8-OHdG content in semen samples from 94 subfertile patients and to investigate the relationship with semen quality. We found that the percentages of spermatozoa with 8-OHdG (mean±s.d., 11.4±6.9%) were related to sperm count (Pearson's correlation coefficient (r)=−0.27, P=0.04 (ANOVA and student's t-test)), motility (progressive: r=−0.22, P=0.04; non-progressive: r=0.25, P=0.01), and normal morphology (r=−0.27, P=0.01). In conclusion, we demonstrate that immunofluorescence/flow cytometry is a reliable and specific method to detect 8-OHdG at single-cell level and show that oxidative damage only partially overlaps poor semen quality, suggesting that it could provide additional information on male fertility with respect to routine semen analysis.

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S Marchiani, L Tamburrino, B Ricci, D Nosi, M Cambi, P Piomboni, G Belmonte, G Forti, M Muratori, and E Baldi

In studies carried out previously, we demonstrated that small ubiquitin-like modifier 1 (SUMO1) is associated with poor sperm motility when evaluated with a protocol that reveals mostly SUMO1-ylated live sperm. Recently, with another protocol, it has been demonstrated that SUMO is expressed in most sperm and is related to poor morphology and motility, suggesting that sumoylation may have multiple roles depending on its localisation and targets. We show herein, by confocal microscopy and co-immunoprecipitation, that dynamin-related protein 1 (DRP1), Ran GTPase-activating protein 1 (RanGAP1) and Topoisomerase IIα, SUMO1 targets in somatic and/or germ cells, are SUMO1-ylated in mature human spermatozoa. DRP1 co-localises with SUMO1 in the mid-piece, whereas RanGAP1 and Topoisomerase IIα in the post-acrosomal region of the head. Both SUMO1 expression and co-localisation with the three proteins were significantly higher in morphologically abnormal sperm, suggesting that sumoylation represents a marker of defective sperm. DRP1 sumoylation at the mid-piece level was higher in the sperm of asthenospermic men. As in somatic cells, DRP1 sumoylation is associated with mitochondrial alterations, this protein may represent the link between SUMO and poor motility. As SUMO pathways are involved in responses to DNA damage, another aim of our study was to investigate the relationship between sumoylation and sperm DNA fragmentation (SDF). By flow cytometry, we demonstrated that SUMO1-ylation and SDF are correlated (r=0.4, P<0.02, n=37) and most sumoylated sperm shows DNA damage in co-localisation analysis. When SDF was induced by stressful conditions (freezing and thawing and oxidative stress), SUMO1-ylation increased. Following freezing and thawing, SUMO1–Topoisomerase IIα co-localisation and co-immunoprecipitation increased, suggesting an involvement in the formation/repair of DNA breakage.

Free access

S Marchiani, L Tamburrino, G Farnetani, M Muratori, L Vignozzi, and E Baldi

Epidemiological studies reported a negative relationship between concentrations of heavy metals and phthalates in seminal fluid and semen quality, likely compromising male fertility potential. The aim of this study was to investigate the in vitro effects of cadmium chloride (CdCl2), a common heavy metal, and diisobutyl phthalate (DIBP), a common phthalate ester, on human sperm functions necessary for fertilization. After in vitro incubation of spermatozoa with 10 µM CdCl2 or 100 and 200 µM DIBP for 24 h, a significant decrease of sperm progressive and hyperactivated motility was observed. The exposure to each of the two toxic agents also induced spontaneous sperm acrosome reaction and blunted the physiological response to progesterone. Both agents induced an increase of caspase activity suggesting triggering of an apoptotic pathway. Our results suggest that acute exposure of spermatozoa to these pollutants may impair sperm ability to reach and fertilize the oocyte.