Differential diagnosis of azoospermia with proteomic biomarkers ECM1 and TEX101 quantified in seminal plasma

Sci Transl Med. 2013 Nov 20;5(212):212ra160. doi: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3006260.


Male fertility problems range from diminished production of sperm, or oligozoospermia, to nonmeasurable levels of sperm in semen, or azoospermia, which is diagnosed in nearly 2% of men in the general population. Testicular biopsy is the only definitive diagnostic method to distinguish between obstructive (OA) and nonobstructive (NOA) azoospermia and to identify the NOA subtypes of hypospermatogenesis, maturation arrest and Sertoli cell-only syndrome. We measured by selected reaction monitoring assay 18 biomarker candidates in 119 seminal plasma samples from men with normal spermatogenesis and azoospermia, and identified two proteins, epididymis-expressed ECM1 and testis-expressed TEX101, which differentiated OA and NOA with high specificities and sensitivities. The performance of ECM1 was confirmed by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. On the basis of a cutoff level of 2.3 μg/ml derived from the current data, we could distinguish OA from normal spermatogenesis with 100% specificity, and OA from NOA with 73% specificity, at 100% sensitivity. Immunohistochemistry and an immunoenrichment mass spectrometry-based assay revealed the differential expression of TEX101 in distinct NOA subtypes. TEX101 semen concentrations differentiated Sertoli cell-only syndrome from the other categories of NOA. As a result, we propose a simple two-biomarker decision tree for the differential diagnosis of OA and NOA and, in addition, for the differentiation of NOA subtypes. Clinical assays for ECM1 and TEX101 have the potential to replace most of the diagnostic testicular biopsies and facilitate the prediction of outcome of sperm retrieval procedures, thus increasing the reliability and success of assisted reproduction techniques.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Azoospermia / diagnosis*
  • Biomarkers / analysis*
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay
  • Extracellular Matrix Proteins / analysis*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Membrane Proteins / analysis*
  • Proteome*
  • Semen / chemistry*


  • Biomarkers
  • ECM1 protein, human
  • Extracellular Matrix Proteins
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Proteome
  • TEX101 protein, human