The relationship between varicocele and fertility has always been a matter of debate because of the absence of predictive clinical indicators or molecular markers able to define the severity of this disease. Even though accumulated evidence demonstrated that the endocannabinoid system (ECS) plays a central role in male reproductive biology, particularly in the testicular compartment, to date no data point to a role for ECS in the etiopathogenesis of varicocele. Therefore, the present research has been designed to investigate the relationship between testicular ECS gene expression and fertility, using a validated animal model of experimental varicocele (VAR), taking advantage of traditional statistical approaches and artificial neural network (ANN). Experimental induction of VAR led to a clear reduction of spermatogenesis in left testes ranging from a mild (Johnsen score 7: 21%) to a severe (Johnsen score 4: 58%) damage of the germinal epithelium. However, the mean number of new-borns recorded after two sequential matings was quite variable and independent of the Johnsen score. While the gene expression of biosynthetic and degrading enzymes of AEA (NAPE-PLD and FAAH, respectively) and of 2-AG (DAGLα and MAGL, respectively), as well as their binding cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2), did not change between testes and among groups, a significant downregulation of vanilloid (TRPV1) expression was recorded in left testes of VAR rats and positively correlated with animal fertility. Interestingly, an ANN trained by inserting the left and right testicular ECS gene expression profiles (inputs) was able to predict varicocele impact on male fertility in terms of mean number of new-borns delivered (outputs), with a very high accuracy (average prediction error of 1%). The present study provides unprecedented information on testicular ECS gene expression patterns during varicocele, by developing a freely available predictive ANN model that may open new perspectives in the diagnosis of varicocele-associated infertility.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Immunology and Microbiology(all)