Little is known about the role of the genitourinary and gastrointestinal microbiota in the pathogenesis of male infertility.
To compare the taxonomic and functional profiles of the gut, semen, and urine microbiomes of infertile and fertile men.
DESIGN, SETTING, AND PARTICIPANTS
We prospectively enrolled 25 men with primary idiopathic infertility and 12 healthy men with proven paternity, and we collected rectal swabs, semen samples, midstream urine specimens, and experimental controls.
OUTCOME MEASUREMENTS AND STATISTICAL ANALYSIS
We performed comprehensive semen analysis, 16S rRNA sequencing for quantitative high-resolution taxonomy, and shotgun metagenomics with a median of 140 million reads per sample for functional metabolic pathway profiling.
RESULTS AND LIMITATIONS
We identified a diverse semen microbiome with modest similarity to the urinary microbiome. Infertile men harbored increased seminal α-diversity and distinct β-diversity, increased seminal Aerococcus, and decreased rectal Anaerococcus. Prevotella abundance was inversely associated with sperm concentration, and Pseudomonas was directly associated with total motile sperm count. Vasectomy appeared to alter the seminal microbiome, suggesting a testicular or epididymal contribution. Anaerobes were highly over-represented in the semen of infertile men with a varicocele, but oxidative stress and leukocytospermia were associated with only subtle differences. Metagenomics data identified significant alterations in the S-adenosyl-L-methionine cycle, which may play a multifaceted role in the pathogenesis of infertility via DNA methylation, oxidative stress, and/or polyamine synthesis.
This pilot study represents the first comprehensive investigation into the microbiome in male infertility. These findings provide the foundation for future investigations to explore causality and identify novel microbiome-based diagnostics and therapeutics for men with this complex and emotionally devastating disease.
We explored the resident populations of bacteria living in the gut, semen, and urine of infertile and fertile men. We found several important bacterial and metabolic pathway differences with the potential to aid in diagnosing and treating male infertility in the future.