Effects of busulfan on murine spermatogenesis: cytotoxicity, sterility, sperm abnormalities, and dominant lethal mutations

Mutat Res. 1987 Feb;176(2):259-68. doi: 10.1016/0027-5107(87)90057-1.


The alkylating agent busulfan (Myleran) adversely affects spermatogenesis in mammals. We treated male mice with single doses of busulfan in order to quantitate its cytotoxic action on spermatogonial cells for comparison with effects of other chemotherapeutic agents, to determine its long-term effects on fertility, and to assess its possible mutagenic action. Both stem cell and differentiating spermatogonia were killed and, at doses above 13 mg/kg, stem cell killing was more complete than that of differentiating spermatogonia. Azoospermia at 56 days after treatment, which is a result of stem cell killing, was achieved at doses of over 30 mg/kg; this dose is below the LD50 for animal survival, which was over 40 mg/kg. Busulfan is the only antineoplastic agent studied thus far that produces such extensive damage to stem, as opposed to differentiating, spermatogonia. The duration of sterility following busulfan treatment depended on the level of stem cell killing and varied according to quantitative predictions based on stem cell killing by other cytotoxic agents. The return of fertility after a sterile period did not occur unless testicular sperm count reached 15% of control levels. Dominant lethal mutations, measured for assessment of possible genetic damage, were not increased, suggesting that stem cells surviving treatment did not propagate a significant number of chromosomal aberrations. Sperm head abnormalities remained significantly increased at 44 weeks after busulfan treatment, however, the genetic implications of this observation are not clear. Thus, we conclude that single doses of busulfan can permanently sterilize mice at nonlethal doses and cause long-term morphological damage to sperm produced by surviving stem spermatogonia.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Alkylating Agents / pharmacology
  • Animals
  • Busulfan / pharmacology*
  • Busulfan / toxicity
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • DNA / drug effects
  • DNA Damage
  • Fertility / drug effects
  • Genes, Dominant / drug effects*
  • Genes, Lethal / drug effects*
  • Infertility, Male / chemically induced*
  • Infertility, Male / genetics
  • Lethal Dose 50
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C3H
  • Mutagenicity Tests
  • Sperm Head / drug effects
  • Sperm Head / ultrastructure
  • Spermatogenesis / drug effects*
  • Stem Cells / drug effects


  • Alkylating Agents
  • DNA
  • Busulfan