MECHANISMS IN ENDOCRINOLOGY: Aberrations of the X chromosome as cause of male infertility

Eur J Endocrinol. 2017 Nov;177(5):R249-R259. doi: 10.1530/EJE-17-0246. Epub 2017 Jun 13.


Male infertility is most commonly caused by spermatogenetic failure, clinically noted as oligo- or a-zoospermia. Today, in approximately 20% of azoospermic patients, a causal genetic defect can be identified. The most frequent genetic causes of azoospermia (or severe oligozoospermia) are Klinefelter syndrome (47,XXY), structural chromosomal abnormalities and Y-chromosomal microdeletions. Consistent with Ohno's law, the human X chromosome is the most stable of all the chromosomes, but contrary to Ohno's law, the X chromosome is loaded with regions of acquired, rapidly evolving genes, which are of special interest because they are predominantly expressed in the testis. Therefore, it is not surprising that the X chromosome, considered as the female counterpart of the male-associated Y chromosome, may actually play an essential role in male infertility and sperm production. This is supported by the recent description of a significantly increased copy number variation (CNV) burden on both sex chromosomes in infertile men and point mutations in X-chromosomal genes responsible for male infertility. Thus, the X chromosome seems to be frequently affected in infertile male patients. Four principal X-chromosomal aberrations have been identified so far: (1) aneuploidy of the X chromosome as found in Klinefelter syndrome (47,XXY or mosaicism for additional X chromosomes). (2) Translocations involving the X chromosome, e.g. nonsyndromic 46,XX testicular disorders of sex development (XX-male syndrome) or X-autosome translocations. (3) CNVs affecting the X chromosome. (4) Point mutations disrupting X-chromosomal genes. All these are reviewed herein and assessed concerning their importance for the clinical routine diagnostic workup of the infertile male as well as their potential to shape research on spermatogenic failure in the next years.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Azoospermia / diagnosis
  • Azoospermia / genetics
  • Azoospermia / therapy
  • Chromosomes, Human, X / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Infertility, Male / diagnosis*
  • Infertility, Male / genetics*
  • Infertility, Male / therapy
  • Male
  • Sperm Injections, Intracytoplasmic / methods
  • Spermatogenesis / genetics