BACKGROUND: Couples increasingly experience infertility and seek help from assisted reproductive techniques to become pregnant. However, 5%-15% of the couples that are selected for in vitro fertilisation (IVF) experience a total fertilisation failure (TFF), where no zygotes develop despite oocytes and semen parameters appear to be normal. We hypothesise that TFF during IVF could be related to improper membrane fusion of gametes.
OBJECTIVE: To investigate the membrane integrity and fusion proteins in spermatozoa from men in couples experiencing TFF.
MATERIALS AND METHODS: A total of 33 infertile couples, 17 of which experienced TFF during IVF and 16 matched control couples with normal IVF fertilisation rates, were selected and the men re-called to deliver an additional semen sample. Proteins involved in gamete membrane fusion on spermatozoa (IZUMO1, SPESP1 and Syncytin-1) as well as O-glycosylation patterns (Tn and GALNT3), were investigated by immunofluorescence. The DNA fragmentation index, acrosomal integrity and viability of spermatozoa were determined by flow and image cytometry.
RESULTS: No significant changes in the expression of GALNT3, Tn and Syncytin-1 were observed between the TFF and control groups. The fraction of spermatozoa expressing SPESP1, the median IZUMO1 staining intensity, and the percentage of viable acrosome-intact spermatozoa were significantly lower in the TFF group compared to controls. Furthermore, following progesterone-induced acrosomal exocytosis, a significant difference in the fraction of spermatozoa expressing SPESP1 and the median IZUMO1 staining intensity were observed between the control and TFF group.
DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION: Our results indicate that acrosomal exocytosis, IZUMO1 and SPESP1 expression in spermatozoa could play a crucial role in achieving fertilisation during IVF. However, the size of our cohort was quite small, and our results need to be validated with quantitative methods in larger cohorts.