Seminal plasma is a promising biological fluid to use for noninvasive clinical diagnostics of male reproductive system disorders. To verify a list of prospective male infertility biomarkers, we developed a multiplex selected reaction monitoring assay and measured the relative abundance of 31 proteins in 30 seminal plasma samples from normal, nonobstructive azoospermia and post-vasectomy individuals. Median levels of some proteins were decreased by more than 100-fold in nonobstructive azoospermia or post-vasectomy samples, in comparison with normal samples.
To follow up the most promising candidates and measure their concentrations in seminal plasma, heavy isotope-labeled internal standards were synthesized and used to reanalyze 20 proteins in the same set of samples. Concentrations of candidate proteins in normal seminal plasma were found in the range 0.1–1000 g/ml but were significantly decreased in nonobstructive azoospermia and post-vasectomy.
These data allowed us to select, for the first time, biomarkers to discriminate between normal, nonobstructive azoospermia, and post-vasectomy (simulated obstructive azoospermia) seminal plasma samples. Some testis-specific proteins (LDHC, TEX101, and SPAG11B) performed with absolute or nearly absolute specificities and sensitivities. Cell-specific classification of protein expression indicated that Sertoli or germ cell dysfunction, but not Leydig cell dysfunction, was observed in nonobstructive azoospermia seminal plasma.
The proposed panel of biomarkers, pending further validation, could lead to a clinical assay that can eliminate the need for testicular biopsy to diagnose the category of male infertility, thus providing significant benefits to patients as well as decreased costs associated with the differential diagnosis of azoospermia.