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Hum Reprod. 2002 Apr;17(4):990-8.

The spectrum of DNA damage in human sperm assessed by single cell gel electrophoresis (Comet assay) and its relationship to fertilization and embryo development.

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School of Biological Sciences, University of Manchester, Manchester, UK.



The integrity of sperm DNA is important for the success of natural or assisted fertilization, as well as normal development of the embryo, fetus and child. ICSI, by bypassing sperm selection mechanisms, increases the risk of transmitting damaged DNA and the significance of this requires investigation.


DNA damage in sperm from an unselected group of 60 men undergoing IVF treatment was measured by single cell gel electrophoresis (Comet assay) and correlated with semen and treatment cycle parameters.


Wide spectra of sperm DNA damage were found both within and between men but no specific subgroups were identified. Semen and treatment cycle parameters were not different in men grouped according to high or low sperm DNA damage. However, regression analysis showed that DNA damage was positively associated with age (29-44 years), abnormal sperm and motility and negatively associated with sperm concentration. In ICSI cycles DNA damage was positively associated with impairment of post-fertilization embryo cleavage.


This study contributes to the evidence of DNA damage within sperm. High loads of DNA damage measured by the Comet assay were predictive of failure of embryo development after ICSI. As it is likely that sperm with DNA damage contributed to successful fertilization and in-vitro development, potential adverse effects remain to be clarified.

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