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Keywords:

  • assisted conception;
  • DNA damage;
  • infertility;
  • miscarriage;
  • spermatozoa

Summary

DNA damage is a common feature of human spermatozoa with purported links to poor rates of conception, impaired embryonic development, an increased incidence of miscarriage and the appearance of various kinds of morbidity in the offspring including childhood cancer. However, difficulties in interpretation arise, because these associations are not consistently observed across all data sets. Such inconsistency reflects the inherent complexity of the reproductive process, large variations in sample size, differences in patient selection, inadequate study design as well as inter-individual differences in the type of DNA damage being detected and the effectiveness of repair mechanisms in the oocyte. This review considers the type, source and measurement of DNA damage in human spermatozoa. It also addresses the clinical utility of the information generated in such studies, and highlights areas where further research is needed to bridge the gap between an intriguing biological phenomenon and the evidence-based clinical management of male patients characterized by high levels of DNA damage in their spermatozoa.