Varicocele pathophysiology is related to increased oxidative stress, which might result in loss sperm DNA integrity as well as in genomic instability. Sperm telomere shortening and loss of global DNA methylation are the main features of genomic instability, leading to cell senescence and death, whereas sperm DNA fragmentation (SDF) characterizes the loss of chromatin integrity. We hypothesize that sperm genomic stability and DNA integrity is reduced in infertile men with moderate and large-sized varicoceles, thus being candidate markers of sperm quality in varicocele-related infertility. Here, we assessed the sperm global DNA methylation, telomere length, and SDF in men with and without clinically palpable varicoceles. While the rates of SDF and telomere length were not statistically different between varicocele patients and controls, global sperm DNA methylation seems to be lower in men with varicocele (49.7% ± 20.7%) than controls (64.7% ± 17.1%). A negative correlation between SDF and sperm motility and a positive correlation between sperm morphology and telomere length were observed. Our results suggest that varicocele may result in genomic instability, in particular, global DNA hypomethylation. However, a large sample size may confirm these findings. The understanding of the molecular mechanisms involved in the pathophysiology of varicocele-related infertility may help to better select candidates for varicocele repair.
Keywords: DNA methylation; DNA stability; Varicocele; sperm DNA fragmentation; telomere.