Testicular microbiome in azoospermic men-first evidence of the impact of an altered microenvironment

M Alfano, R Ferrarese, I Locatelli, E Ventimiglia, Silvia Ippolito, P Gallina, D Cesana, F Canducci, L Pagliardini, P Viganò, M Clementi, M Nebuloni, F Montorsi, A Salonia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


STUDY QUESTION: Given the relevant role of the extracellular microenvironment in regulating tissue homeostasis, is testicular bacterial microbiome (BM) associated with germ cell aplasia in idiopathic non-obstructive azoospermia (iNOA)? SUMMARY ANSWER: A steady increase of dysbiosis was observed among testis with normal spermatogenesis vs. iNOA with positive sperm retrieval and iNOA with complete germ cell aplasia. WHAT IS KNOWN ALREADY: Tissue-associated BM has been reported to be a biologically important extracellular microenvironment component for numerous body habitats, but not yet for the human testis. STUDY DESIGN, SIZE, DURATION: Cross-sectional study, investigating tissue-associated BM in the testis of (i) five men with iNOA and negative sperm retrieval at microdissection testicular sperm extraction (microTESE); (ii) five men with iNOA and positive sperm retrieval at microTESE; and (iii) five normozoospermic men upon orchiectomy. Every testicular specimen was histologically classified and analyzed in terms of bacterial community. PARTICIPANTS/MATERIALS, SETTING, METHODS: Massive ultra-deep pyrosequencing was applied to investigate testis microbiome. Metagenome was analyzed using Quantitative Insights Into Microbial Ecology (QIIME). Tissue-associated bacterial load was quantified by digital droplet PCR. MAIN RESULTS AND THE ROLE OF CHANCE: Normozoospermic men showed small amounts of bacteria in the testis, with Actinobacteria, Bacteroidetes, Firmicutes Proteobacteria as the dominating phyla; iNOA individuals had increased amounts of bacterial DNA (P = 0.02), associated with decreased taxa richness due to the lack of Bacteroidetes and Proteobacteria (P = 2 × 10−5). Specimens with negative sperm retrieval at microTESE depicted complete germ cell aplasia and a further decrease in terms of Firmicutes and Clostridia (P <0.05), a complete lack of Peptoniphilus asaccharolyticus, but increased amount of Actinobacteria. LIMITATIONS, REASONS FOR CAUTION: The limited number of specimens analyzed in this preliminary study deserves external validation. The paraneoplastic microenvironment could have an impact on the residential bacterial flora. WIDER IMPLICATION OF THE FINDINGS: Human testicular microenvironment is not microbiologically sterile, containing low amounts of Actinobacteria, Bacteroidetes, Firmicutes and Proteobacteria. A dysbiotic bacterial community was associated with iNOA and complete germ cell aplasia. Novel findings on testicular BM could support future translational therapies of male-factor infertility. STUDY FUNDING/COMPETING INTEREST(S): This work was supported by URI-Urological Research Institute free funds. Authors declared no conflict of interest. © The Author(s) 2018.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1212-1217
Number of pages6
JournalHuman Reproduction
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 2018


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