We have developed a protocol for the identification of aberrant chromosome behavior during human male meiosis up to metaphase of the secondary spermatocyte. Histological evaluation by the Johnsen score of a testicular biopsy was combined with immunofluorescence of first meiotic prophase spermatocytes, using antibodies against synaptonemal complex protein 3 (SYCP3) and the product of the ataxia telangiectasia and rad3-related gene (ATR). This combination enables accurate meiotic prophase substaging and the identification of pachytene spermatocytes with asynapsis. Furthermore, we also investigated the competence of late pachytene primary spermatocytes to complete the first meiotic division up to metaphase and of secondary spermatocytes to transform into metaphase by an in vitro challenge with okadaic acid (OA). We tested this protocol on five males with normal Johnsen scores that presented with obstructive azoospermia, five males with low Johnsen scores and non-obstructive azoospermia and six vasectomized control males of proven fertility and normal Johnsen scores. In all azoospermics, the profiling of meiotic prophase stages by immunofluorescence increases the resolving power of the Johnsen score. In both obstructive and non-obstructive azoospermic patients, relatively more leptotene meiotic prophase stages were counted compared to the controls. In non-obstructive azoospermics, a marked heterogeneity in spermatogenesis was found, after combining the results of all three approaches, pointing at functional mosaicism of the germinal epithelium. Asynaptic pachytene spermatocytes were rarely encountered. Also, when first meiotic metaphase could be induced by OA, chiasma counts were normal. In none of the non-obstructive azoospermic males did the pattern of spermatogenesis resemble that of knock-out mouse azoospermics. We conclude that this combined histological and cytological approach enables a detailed phenotypic classification of infertile males, at a level comparable to that applied for male-sterile knock-out mice with a meiotic defect. This may facilitate the identification of candidate genes for human male infertility.   

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