Lack of trusted diagnostic tools for undetermined male infertility

J Assist Reprod Genet. 2021 Feb;38(2):265-276. doi: 10.1007/s10815-020-02037-5. Epub 2021 Jan 2.


Semen analysis is the cornerstone of evaluating male infertility, but it is imperfect and insufficient to diagnose male infertility. As a result, about 20% of infertile males have undetermined infertility, a term encompassing male infertility with an unknown underlying cause. Undetermined male infertility includes two categories: (i) idiopathic male infertility-infertile males with abnormal semen analyses with an unknown cause for that abnormality and (ii) unexplained male infertility-males with "normal" semen analyses who are unable to impregnate due to unknown causes. The treatment of males with undetermined infertility is limited due to a lack of understanding the frequency of general sperm defects (e.g., number, motility, shape, viability). Furthermore, there is a lack of trusted, quantitative, and predictive diagnostic tests that look inside the sperm to quantify defects such as DNA damage, RNA abnormalities, centriole dysfunction, or reactive oxygen species to discover the underlying cause. To better treat undetermined male infertility, further research is needed on the frequency of sperm defects and reliable diagnostic tools that assess intracellular sperm components must be developed. The purpose of this review is to uniquely create a paradigm of thought regarding categories of male infertility based on intracellular and extracellular features of semen and sperm, explore the prevalence of the various categories of male factor infertility, call attention to the lack of standardization and universal application of advanced sperm testing techniques beyond semen analysis, and clarify the limitations of standard semen analysis. We also call attention to the variability in definitions and consider the benefits towards undetermined male infertility if these gaps in research are filled.

Keywords: Andrology; Male infertility; Prevalence; Semen analysis; Sperm analysis; Unexplained infertility.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Centrioles / genetics
  • DNA Damage / genetics
  • Humans
  • Infertility, Male / diagnosis*
  • Infertility, Male / genetics
  • Infertility, Male / pathology
  • Male
  • Semen Analysis / trends*
  • Sperm Count
  • Sperm Motility / genetics*
  • Spermatozoa / pathology
  • Spermatozoa / ultrastructure