Bi-allelic variants in DNHD1 cause flagellar axoneme defects and asthenoteratozoospermia in humans and mice

Am J Hum Genet. 2022 Jan 6;109(1):157-171. doi: 10.1016/j.ajhg.2021.11.022. Epub 2021 Dec 20.


Asthenoteratozoospermia, defined as reduced sperm motility and abnormal sperm morphology, is a disorder with considerable genetic heterogeneity. Although previous studies have identified several asthenoteratozoospermia-associated genes, the etiology remains unknown for the majority of affected men. Here, we performed whole-exome sequencing on 497 unrelated men with asthenoteratozoospermia and identified DNHD1 bi-allelic variants from eight families (1.6%). All detected variants were predicted to be deleterious via multiple bioinformatics tools. Hematoxylin and eosin (H&E) staining revealed that individuals with bi-allelic DNHD1 variants presented striking abnormalities of the flagella; transmission electron microscopy (TEM) further showed flagellar axoneme defects, including central pair microtubule (CP) deficiency and mitochondrial sheath (MS) malformations. In sperm from fertile men, DNHD1 was localized to the entire flagella of the normal sperm; however, it was nearly absent in the flagella of men with bi-allelic DNHD1 variants. Moreover, abundance of the CP markers SPAG6 and SPEF2 was significantly reduced in spermatozoa from men harboring bi-allelic DNHD1 variants. In addition, Dnhd1 knockout male mice (Dnhd1‒/‒) exhibited asthenoteratozoospermia and infertility, a finding consistent with the sperm phenotypes present in human subjects with DNHD1 variants. The female partners of four out of seven men who underwent intracytoplasmic sperm injection therapy subsequently became pregnant. In conclusion, our study showed that bi-allelic DNHD1 variants cause asthenoteratozoospermia, a finding that provides crucial insights into the biological underpinnings of this disorder and should assist with counseling of affected individuals.

Keywords: DNHD1; male infertility; mitochondrial sheath; sperm flagella; whole-exome sequencing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alleles*
  • Animals
  • Asthenozoospermia / diagnosis
  • Asthenozoospermia / genetics*
  • Axoneme / genetics*
  • Axoneme / pathology
  • Computational Biology / methods
  • DNA Mutational Analysis
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Dyneins / genetics*
  • Exome Sequencing
  • Flagella / genetics*
  • Flagella / pathology
  • Gene Frequency
  • Genetic Association Studies
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease*
  • Humans
  • Infertility, Male / genetics
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Mitochondria / genetics
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • Mitochondria / ultrastructure
  • Mutation*
  • Pedigree
  • Phenotype
  • Semen Analysis
  • Sperm Tail / pathology
  • Sperm Tail / ultrastructure


  • Dyneins