Study question: Is the thrombophilia mutation factor V Leiden (FVL) associated with an increased total sperm count?
Summary answer: Carriers of FVL have a higher total sperm count than non-FVL-carriers, which could not be explained by genetic linkage or by observations in a FVL-mouse model.
What is known already: FVL has a high prevalence in Caucasians despite detrimental health effects. Carriers have been shown to have higher fecundity, which might partly explain this evolutionary paradox.
Study design, size, duration: We determined FVL status in two cohorts (Dutch, n = 627; Danish, n = 854) of consecutively included men without known causes for spermatogenic failure, and performed an individual patient data meta-analysis of these two cohorts together with one previously published (Dutch, n = 908) cohort. We explored possible biological underpinnings for the relation between sperm count and FVL, by use of a FVL-mouse model and investigations of genetic linkage.
Participants/materials, setting, methods: Participants were male partners of subfertile couples (two Dutch cohorts) and young men from the general population (Danish cohort): FVL carrier rate was 4.0%, 4.6% and 7.3%, respectively. There were differences in smoking, abstinence time and age between the cohorts. We corrected for these in the primary analysis, which consisted of a mixed linear effects model, also incorporating unobjectified population differences. In public haplotype data from subjects of European descent, we explored linkage disequilibrium of FVL with all known single nucleotide polymorphisms in a 1.5 MB region around the F5 gene with an R2 cutoff of 0.8. We sequenced exons of four candidate genes hypothesized to be linked to FVL in a subgroup of FVL carriers with extreme sperm count values. The animal studies consisted of never mated 15-18-week-old C57BL/J6 mice heterozygous and homozygous for FVL and wild-type mice. We compared spermatogenesis parameters (normalized internal genitalia weights, epididymis sperm content and sperm motility) between FVL and wild-type mice.
Main results and the role of chance: Human FVL carriers have a higher total sperm count than non-carriers, with an adjusted mean difference of 31 × 106 (95%CI 0.2-61.7; P = 0.048). Mice with the FVL mutation do not have increased spermatogenesis as compared to wildtype mice. None of the studied polymorphisms was in linkage disequilibrium, either in the public databases or in a subgroup of FVL carriers with extremely high sperm counts.
Limitations, reasons for caution: The difference in total sperm count would benefit from confirmation in other cohorts. The finding of higher count in carriers was consistent however, with no heterogeneity between the cohorts. The lack of effect of murine FVL might suggest there is no direct causality. The exploratory efforts on genetic linkage do not rule out that the association is a reflection of FVL co-inheritance with a non-studied causative polymorphism.
Wider implications of the findings: A high sperm count in FVL-carrying males contributes to understanding the high prevalence of this otherwise disadvantageous mutation. The findings might provide directions for future research on male fertility.
Study funding/competing interest(s): No conflicts of interest. Research was conducted with funding from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO, VIDI innovative research grant 016.126.364 awarded to S. Middeldorp). The Danish cohort was supported by the Innovation Fund Denmark (InnovationsFonden, grant no. 14-2013-4), The Danish Ministry of Health and the Danish Environmental Protection Agency.
Trial registration number: Not applicable.
Keywords: evolution; factor V Leiden; male fertility; prothrombin G20210A mutation; sperm count; spermatogenesis; thrombophilia.
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