World Health Organization reference values for human semen characteristics

Centre of Reproductive Medicine and Andrology of the University, Domagkstrasse 11, Münster, Germany.
Human Reproduction Update (Impact Factor: 10.17). 11/2009; 16(3):231-45. DOI: 10.1093/humupd/dmp048
Source: PubMed


Semen quality is taken as a surrogate measure of male fecundity in clinical andrology, male fertility, reproductive toxicology, epidemiology and pregnancy risk assessments. Reference intervals for values of semen parameters from a fertile population could provide data from which prognosis of fertility or diagnosis of infertility can be extrapolated.
Semen samples from over 4500 men in 14 countries on four continents were obtained from retrospective and prospective analyses on fertile men, men of unknown fertility status and men selected as normozoospermic. Men whose partners had a time-to-pregnancy (TTP) of < or =12 months were chosen as individuals to provide reference distributions for semen parameters. Distributions were also generated for a population assumed to represent the general population.
The following one-sided lower reference limits, the fifth centiles (with 95th percent confidence intervals), were generated from men whose partners had TTP < or = 12 months: semen volume, 1.5 ml (1.4-1.7); total sperm number, 39 million per ejaculate (33-46); sperm concentration, 15 million per ml (12-16); vitality, 58% live (55-63); progressive motility, 32% (31-34); total (progressive + non-progressive) motility, 40% (38-42); morphologically normal forms, 4.0% (3.0-4.0). Semen quality of the reference population was superior to that of the men from the general population and normozoospermic men.
The data represent sound reference distributions of semen characteristics of fertile men in a number of countries. They provide an appropriate tool in conjunction with clinical data to evaluate a patient's semen quality and prospects for fertility.

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Available from: Trine B Haugen, Apr 21, 2014
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    • "The curves best fitting each distribution profile were then constructed with the Fit-curve option of Sigmaplot software (Statistical Solutions). By analogy with the WHO reference thresholds for semen characteristics obtained for a similar population of fertile men (Cooper et al., 2010), we considered the 95th percentile for the various categories of abnormalities and MAI, and the 5th percentile for the percentage of normal spermatozoa in the fertile group as lower reference thresholds. Dichotomous categorization has been shown to be of little overall clinical relevance for semen variables (Bjö rndahl, 2011). "
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    ABSTRACT: Study question: Can a standardized assessment of abnormal human sperm morphology provide additional useful information by identifying men with more severe disturbances in different types of abnormalities? Summary answer: Definition-based categorization of sperm head, midpiece and tail defects has shown how differently these abnormalities are distributed in fertile men and other groups of men, thus providing high and low thresholds, a starting point for diagnosis or research purposes. What is known already: Several recent studies have reported indisputable genetic origins for various sperm defects. A few studies have also identified associations between environmental factors and low percentages of morphologically normal spermatozoa. Nevertheless, with the exception of rare situations in which the vast majority of spermatozoa have specific, easily characterized defects, such as 'globozoospermia', little attention has been paid to the description and precise quantification of human sperm abnormalities. The lack of standardization in the phenotyping of sperm morphological defects by conventional microscopy is a limiting factor for diagnosis and for intra- or inter-observer or centre consistency in studies investigating the causal factors and possible functional consequences of the abnormalities detected. There are currently no baseline data for abnormalities of sperm morphology based on a standardized classification, in the general population, among fertile or other groups of men. Study design, size, duration: This study is based on detailed sperm abnormality datasets acquired by a standardized classification method, from several groups of men, over the same 5-year period. Participants/materials, setting, methods: We studied cross-sectional data from fertile men (n = 926), male partners from infertile couples (n = 1747) and testicular cancer patients (n = 239). We used a standardized classification to analyse Shorr-stained slides, taking into account all the abnormalities encountered. Main results and the role of chance: Most sperm defects were significantly more frequent in infertile than in fertile men, with 20-30% of infertile men having frequencies of abnormalities above the 95th percentile in fertile men for 9 out of the 15 categories of abnormalities. Interestingly, several head abnormalities were significantly more frequent in patients with testicular cancer than in infertile men, highlighting the particular impact of this condition on sperm morphogenesis. We used the 95th percentile in fertile men as the lower threshold and the 99th percentile in infertile men as an extreme upper threshold, for the classification of morphological abnormality frequencies into three levels: low, intermediate and high. The assessment of several semen samples, with or without a genetic background, for abnormal sperm morphology, based on the percentage of normal spermatozoa, a teratozoospermia index, and the detailed profile of abnormalities categorized according to the three levels proposed, has highlighted the value of detailed phenotyping for diagnosis and research purposes. Limitations, reasons for caution: The thresholds proposed for the various categories of sperm abnormality should be considered relative rather than absolute, owing to the known sampling error related to the limited number of spermatozoa assessed per sample, or when studying the general population or populations from regions other than Western Europe. The standardized assessment of abnormal sperm morphology requires time and experience. We therefore suggest that this assessment is carried out during a first andrological check-up or for epidemiological or research studies, rather than in the routine management of infertile couples for assisted reproductive technologies. Wider implications of the findings: The study design used for the fertile group of men was similar to that previously used for the WHO reference values, providing a rationale for considering the 95th percentile in fertile men as the level below which abnormalities may be considered to occur at a frequency representing random background variations of a normal spermiogenesis process. The crude frequencies obtained, and the three levels of abnormality frequency proposed for each standardized category of sperm defect, provide baseline data useful for diagnosis and a starting point for future studies aiming to identify associations with genetic or environmental factors. Study funding/competing interests: Part of this study was supported by contract BMH4-CT96-0314 from the European Union. The authors have no competing interests to declare.
    Human Reproduction 10/2015; DOI:10.1093/humrep/dev251 · 4.57 Impact Factor
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    • "Patients were selected for IVF according to clinical indications and semen quality: e.g. normal sperm concentration and motility (Cooper et al., 2010) and 1 × 10 6 progressively motile cells post-preparation. "
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    ABSTRACT: Study question: Are significant abnormalities of CatSper function present in IVF patients with normal sperm concentration and motility and if so what is their functional significance for fertilization success? Summary answer: Sperm with a near absence of CatSper current failed to respond to activation of CatSper by progesterone and there was fertilization failure at IVF. What is known already: In human spermatozoa, Ca(2+) influx induced by progesterone is mediated by CatSper, a sperm-specific Ca(2+) channel. A suboptimal Ca(2+) influx is significantly associated with, and more prevalent in, men with abnormal semen parameters, and is associated with reduced fertilizing capacity. However, abnormalities in CatSper current can only be assessed directly using electrophysiology. There is only one report of a CatSper-deficient man who showed no progesterone potentiated CatSper current. A CatSper 2 genetic abnormality was present but there was no information on the [Ca(2+)]i response to CatSper activation by progesterone. Additionally, the semen samples had indicating significant abnormalities (oligoasthenoteratozoospermia) multiple suboptimal functional responses in the spermatozoon. As such it cannot be concluded that impaired CatSper function alone causes infertility or that CatSper blockade is a potential safe target for contraception. Study design, size, duration: Spermatozoa were obtained from donors and subfertile IVF patients attending a hospital assisted reproductive techniques clinic between January 2013 and December 2014. In total 134 IVF patients, 28 normozoospermic donors and 10 patients recalled due to a history of failed/low fertilization at IVF took part in the study. Participants/materials, setting, methods: Samples were primarily screened using the Ca(2+) influx induced by progesterone and, if cell number was sufficient, samples were also assessed by hyperactivation and penetration into viscous media. A defective Ca(2+) response to progesterone was defined using the 99% confidence interval from the distribution of response amplitudes in normozoospermic donors. Samples showing a defective Ca(2+) response were further examined in order to characterize the potential CatSper abnormalities. In men where there was a consistent and robust failure of calcium signalling, a direct assessment of CatSper function was performed using electrophysiology (patch clamping), and a blood sample was obtained for genetic analysis. Main results and the role of chance: A total of 101/102 (99%) IVF patients and 22/23 (96%) donors exhibited a normal Ca(2+) response. The mean (±SD) normalized peak response did not differ between donors and IVF patients (2.57 ± 0.68 [n = 34 ejaculates from 23 different donors] versus 2.66 ± 0.68 [n = 102 IVF patients], P = 0.63). In recall patients, 9/10 (90%) showed a normal Ca(2+) response. Three men were initially identified with a defective Ca(2+) influx. However, only one (Patient 1) had a defective response in repeat semen samples. Electrophysiology experiments on sperm from Patient 1 showed a near absence of CatSper current and exon screening demonstrated no mutations in the coding regions of the CatSper complex. There was no increase in penetration of viscous media when the spermatozoa were stimulated with progesterone and importantly there was failed fertilization at IVF. Limitations, reasons for caution: A key limitation relates to working with a specific functional parameter (Ca(2+) influx induced by progesterone) in fresh sperm samples from donors and patients that have limited viability. Therefore, for practical, technical and logistical reasons, some men (∼22% of IVF patients) could not be screened. As such the incidence of significant Ca(2+) abnormalities induced by progesterone may be higher than the ∼1% observed here. Additionally, we used a strict definition of a defective Ca(2+) influx such that only substantial abnormalities were selected for further study. Furthermore, electrophysiology was only performed on one patient with a robust and repeatable defective calcium response. This man had negligible CatSper current but more subtle abnormalities (e.g. currents present but significantly smaller) may have been present in men with either normal or below normal Ca(2+) influx. Wider implications of the findings: These data add significantly to the understanding of the role of CatSper in human sperm function and its impact on male fertility. Remarkably, these findings provide the first direct evidence that CatSper is a suitable and specific target for human male contraception. Study funding/competing interests: Initial funding was from NHS Tayside, Infertility Research Trust, TENOVUS, Chief Scientist Office NRS Fellowship, the Wellcome Trust, University of Abertay. The majority of the data were obtained using funding from a MRC project grant (# 4190). The authors declare that there is no conflict of interest. Trial registration number: Not applicable.
    Human Reproduction 10/2015; DOI:10.1093/humrep/dev243 · 4.57 Impact Factor
    • "Standard semen assessment was performed according to the contemporaneous WHO semen manual (WHO, 1999) with results reported according to current WHO parameters (Cooper et al., 2010), except that sperm concentration was determined by using a Makler chamber and semen volume was determined using a graduated, volumetric pipette, which differs from WHO recommendations. Sperm output was characterized as both sperm concentrations (million sperm per ml of ejaculate) and total sperm output (million per ejaculate). "
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    ABSTRACT: Study question: By investigating a birth cohort with a high ongoing participation rate to derive an unbiased population, what are the parameters and influences upon testicular function for a population not selected with regard to fertility? Summary answer: While varicocele, cryptorchidism and obesity may impact on human testicular function, most common drug exposures and the presence of epididymal cysts appear to have no or minimal adverse impact. What is known already: The majority of previous attempts to develop valid reference populations for spermatogenesis have relied on potentially biased sources such as recruits from infertility clinics, self-selected volunteer sperm donors for research or artificial insemination or once-fertile men seeking vasectomy. It is well known that studies requiring semen analysis have low recruitment rates which consequently question their validity. However, there has been some concern that a surprisingly high proportion of young men may have semen variables that do not meet all the WHO reference range criteria for fertile men, with some studies reporting that up to one half of participants have not meet the reference range for fertile men. Reported median sperm concentrations have ranged from 40 to 60 million sperm/ml. Study design, size and duration: The Western Australian Pregnancy Cohort (Raine) was established in 1989. At 20-22 years of age, members of the cohort were contacted to attend for a general follow-up, with 753 participating out of the 913 contactable men. Of these, 423 men (56% of participants in the 20-22 years cohort study, 46% of contactable men) participated in a testicular function study. Of the 423 men, 404 had a testicular ultrasound, 365 provided at least one semen sample, 287 provided a second semen sample and 384 provided a blood sample. Participants/materials, setting, methods: Testicular ultrasound examinations were performed at King Edward Memorial Hospital, Subiaco, Perth, for testicular volume and presence of epididymal cysts and varicoceles. Semen samples were provided and analysed by standard semen assessment and a sperm chromatin structural assay (SCSA) at Fertility Specialists of Western Australia, Claremont, Perth. Serum blood samples were provided at the University of Western Australia, Crawley, Perth and were analysed for serum luteinizing hormone (LH), follicular stimulating hormone (FSH), inhibin B, testosterone, dihydrotestosterone (DHT), dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), estradiol, estrone and the primary metabolites of DHT: 5α-androstane-3α,17β-diol (3α-diol) and 5-α androstane-3-β-17-beta-diol (3β-diol). Serum steroids were measured by liquid chromatography, mass spectrometry and LH, FSH and inhibin B were measured by ELISA assays. Main results and the role of chance: Cryptorchidism was associated with a significant reduction in testicular (P = 0.047) and semen (P = 0.027) volume, sperm concentration (P = 0.007) and sperm output (P = 0.003). Varicocele was associated with smaller testis volume (P < 0.001), lower sperm concentration (P = 0.012) and total sperm output (P = 0.030) and lower serum inhibin B levels (P = 0.046). Smoking, alcohol intake, herniorrhaphy, an epididymal cyst, medication and illicit drugs were not associated with any significant semen variables, testicular volume or circulating reproductive hormones. BMI had a significantly negative correlation with semen volume (r = -0.12, P = 0.048), sperm output (r = -0.13, P = 0.02), serum LH (r = -0.16, P = 0.002), inhibin B (r = -0.16, P < 0.001), testosterone (r = -0.23, P < 0.001) and DHT (r = -0.22, P < 0.001) and a positive correlation with 3αD (r = 0.13, P = 0.041) and DHEA (r = 0.11, P = 0.03). Second semen samples compared with the first semen samples in the 287 participants who provided two samples, with no significant bias by Bland-Altman analysis. Testis volume was significantly correlated positively with sperm concentration (r = 0.25, P < 0.001) and sperm output (r = 0.29, P < 0.001) and inhibin B (r = 0.42, P < 0.001), and negatively correlated with serum LH (r = -0.24, P < 0.001) and FSH (r = -0.32, P < 0.001). SCSA was inversely correlated with sperm motility (r = -0.20, P < 0.001) and morphology (r = -0.16, P = 0.005). WHO semen reference criteria were all met by only 52 men (14.4%). Some criteria were not met at first analysis in 15-20% of men, including semen volume (<1.5 ml, 14.8%), total sperm output (<39 million, 18.9%), sperm concentration (<15 million/ml, 17.5%), progressive motility (<32%, 14.4%) and morphologically normal sperm (<4%, 26.4%), while all five WHO criteria were not met in four participants (1.1%). Limitations and reasons for caution: This was a large cohort study; however, potential for recruitment bias still exists. Men who did not participate in the testicular evaluation study (n = 282) did not differ from those who did (n = 423) with regard to age, weight, BMI, smoking or circulating reproductive hormones (LH, FSH, inhibin B, T, DHT, E2, E1, DHEA, 3α-diol, 3β-diol), but were significantly shorter (178 versus 180 cm, P = 0.008) and had lower alcohol consumption (P = 0.019) than those who did participate. Wider implications of the findings: This study demonstrated the feasibility of establishing a birth cohort to provide a relatively unbiased insight into population-representative sperm output and function and of investigating its determinants from common exposures. While varicocele, cryptorchidism and obesity may impact on human testicular function, most common drug exposures and the presence of epididymal cysts appear to have little adverse impact, and this study suggests that discrepancies from the WHO reference ranges are expected, due to its derivation from non-population-representative fertile populations. Study funding/competing interests: This study was supported by Australian NHMRC Grant Number 634457 and received support from the Raine Medical Research Foundation, The Telethon Kids institute, The University of Western Australia, Women and Infant Research Foundation, Curtin University and Edith Cowan University. R.J.H. is the Medical Director of Fertility Specialists of Western Australia and a shareholder in Western IVF. He has received educational sponsorship from MSD, Merck-Serono and Ferring Pharmaceuticals. D.A.D., M.L.W., J.A.K., J.E.D., J.E.D., N.E.S. and D.J.H. have no competing interests. RIM is a shareholder in the Monash IVF Group. RJN is a shareholder in FertilitySA.
    Human Reproduction 09/2015; DOI:10.1093/humrep/dev244 · 4.57 Impact Factor
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