Predicting the outcome of in vitro fertilization (IVF)/intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) is one main goal of the present research on assisted reproduction. To understand whether density gradient centrifugation (DGC), used to select sperm, can affect sperm DNA integrity and impact pregnancy rate (PR), we prospectively evaluated sperm DNA fragmentation (sDF) by TUNEL/PI, before and after DGC. sDF was studied in a cohort of 90 infertile couples the same day of IVF/ICSI treatment. After DGC, sDF increased in 41 samples (Group A, median sDF value: 29.25% [interquartile range, IQR: 16.01–41.63] in pre- and 60.40% [IQR: 32.92–93.53] in post-DGC) and decreased in 49 (Group B, median sDF value: 18.84% [IQR: 13.70–35.47] in pre- and 8.98% [IQR: 6.24–15.58] in post-DGC). PR was 17.1% and 34.4% in Group A and B, respectively (odds ratio [OR]: 2.58, 95% confidence interval [CI]: 0.95–7.04, P = 0.056). After adjustment for female factor, female and male age and female BMI, the estimated OR increased to 3.12 (95% CI: 1.05–9.27, P = 0.041). According to the subgroup analysis for presence/absence of female factor, heterogeneity in the association between the Group A and B and PR emerged (OR: 4.22, 95% CI: 1.16–15.30 and OR: 1.53, 95% CI: 0.23–10.40, respectively, for couples without, n = 59, and with, n = 31, female factor).
This study provides the first evidence that the DGC procedure produces an increase in sDF in about half of the subjects undergoing IVF/ICSI, who then show a much lower probability of pregnancy, raising concerns about the safety of this selection procedure. Evaluation of sDF before and after DGC configures as a possible new prognostic parameter of pregnancy outcome in IVF/ICSI. Alternative sperm selection strategies are recommended for those subjects who undergo the damage after DGC.