Baseline levels of seminal reactive oxygen species predict improvements in sperm function following anti-oxidant therapy in men with infertility.

Poor sperm function is a major cause of infertility. There is no drug therapy to improve sperm function. Semen oxidative stress is a recently identified pathway for sperm damage. Commercial anti-oxidants such as L-carnitine and acetyl-L-carnitine (LAL) are commonly self-administered by infertile men. However, concerns have been raised whether inappropriate LAL therapy causes reductive stress-mediated sperm damage. It is imperative to investigate whether: (1) LAL improves sperm function by reducing reactive oxidative species (ROS); (2) LAL has differential effects on sperm function between men with normal and elevated ROS.

A prospective cohort study of routine clincical practice was performed in infertile men with abnormal sperm quality. Changes in sperm function and semen ROS levels following three-months of oral LAL therapy were compared between participants with baseline seminal Normal-ROS (≤10RLU/SEC/106 sperm; n=29) and High-ROS (>10 RLU/SEC/106 sperm; n=15) levels measured using an established colorimetric-luminol method.

In Normal-ROS group, sperm function did not change following LAL therapy. In High-ROS group, LAL therapy reduced semen ROS 5-fold, increased sperm count by 50% (mean count in mill/ml: 21.5+7.2, baseline; 32.6+9.5, post-treatment, p=0.0005), and total and progressive sperm motility each by 30% (mean total sperm motility in % 29.8+5.0, baseline: 39.4+6.2, post-treatment, p=0.004; mean progressive sperm motility in % 23.1+4.6, baseline: 30.0+5.5, post-treatment, p=0.014 vs. baseline).

We report for the first time that LAL only improves sperm quality in infertile men who have baseline high-ROS levels prior to treatment. These data have important potential implications for couples with male infertility and their clinicians.

Clinical endocrinology. 2020 Sep 07 [Epub ahead of print]

Wayne Vessey, Shaghayegh Saifi, Aditi Sharma, Cassandra McDonald, Paula Almeida, Monica Figueiredo, Suks Minhas, Ashraf Virmani, Waljit S Dhillo, Jonathan W Ramsay, Channa N Jayasena

Department of Andrology, Hammersmith Hospital, London, UK., Section of Investigative Medicine, Imperial College London, Hammersmith Hospital, London, UK., Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, London, UK., Department of Urology, Charing Cross Hospital, London, UK., Sigma-Tau, Utrecht, The Netherlands.