High Quality RNA in Semen and Sperm: Isolation, Analysis and Potential Application in Clinical Testing

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Male infertility is a complex health condition. To our knowledge there are no molecular biomarkers of male infertility. Sperm RNA is a potential biomarker for detecting sperm abnormalities and viability at infertility clinics. However, RNA use is hindered by its inconsistent quantity, quality, multiple cell types in semen and condensed sperm structure.

Materials and Methods:

We tested the usefulness of high quality RNA isolated from mature sperm and whole semen by our protocol, which reduces RNA degradation by maintaining semen and protocol components at 37C and decreasing processing time. We isolated RNA from 83 whole semen samples, 18 samples of motile sperm prepared by the swim-up protocol and 18 of sperm prepared by the standard Percoll gradient method.


Electrophoretic and spectral analysis of RNA revealed high quality 18S and 28S rRNAs in 71 of 83 whole semen samples (86%) and 15 of 18 mature sperm swim-up samples (83%). However, high quality RNA was isolated from only 7 of 18 Percoll gradient sperm samples (39%). Interestingly quantitative reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction analysis of 4 somatic and 10 germ cell markers showed that whole semen and swim-up samples had similar RNA profiles. RNA sequencing revealed that most encoded proteins were involved in mature sperm function, regulation of DNA replication, transcription, translation, cell cycle and embryo development.


We believe that semen and sperm specific RNAs are highly informative biomarkers for germ cell stages and somatic cell contribution. Therefore, these RNAs could be valuable diagnostic indicators of sperm survival, fertilization and early embryogenesis, and could serve as a predictor of the in vitro fertilization prognosis.

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