Co-culture of cryopreserved healthy sertoli cells with testicular tissue of non-obstructive azoospermia (NOA) patients in culture media containing follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH)/testosterone has no advantage in germ cell maturation

O. Sena Aydos (Lead / Corresponding author), Yunus Yukselten (Lead / Corresponding author), Tulin Ozkan, Sinan Ozkavukcu, Meltem Tuten Erdogan, Asuman Sunguroglu, Kaan Aydos

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Different cell culture conditions and techniques have been used to mature spermatogenic cells to increase the success of in vitro fertilization. Sertoli cells (SCs) are essential in maintaining spermatogenesis and FSH stimulation exerts its effect through direct or indirect actions on SCs. The effectiveness of FSH and testosterone added to the co-culture has been demonstrated in other studies to provide microenvironment conditions of the testicular niche and to contribute to the maturation and meiotic progression of spermatogonial stem cells (SSCs). In the present study, we investigated whether co-culture of healthy SCs with the patient's testicular tissue in the medium supplemented with FSH/testosterone provides an advantage in the differentiation and maturation of germ cells in NOA cases (N = 34). In men with obstructive azoospermia (N = 12), healthy SCs from testicular biopsies were identified and purified, then cryopreserved. The characterization of healthy SCs was done by flow cytometry (FC) and immunohistochemistry using antibodies specific for GATA4 and vimentin. FITC-conjugated annexin V/PI staining and the MTT assay were performed to compare the viability and proliferation of SCs before and after freezing. In annexin V staining, no difference was found in percentages of live and apoptotic SCs, and MTT showed that cryopreservation did not inhibit SC proliferation compared to the pre-freezing state. Then, tissue samples from NOA patients were processed in two separate environments containing FSH/testosterone and FSH/testosterone plus co-culture with thawed healthy SCs for 7 days. FC was used to measure 7th-day levels of specific markers expressed in spermatogonia (VASA), meiotic cells (CREM), and post-meiotic cells (protamine-2 and acrosin). VASA and acrosin basal levels were found to be lower in infertile patients compared to the OA group (8.2% vs. 30.6% and 12.8% vs. 30.5%, respectively; p < 0.05). Compared to pre-treatment measurements, on the 7th day in the FSH/testosterone environment, CREM levels increased by 58.8% and acrosin levels increased by 195.5% (p < 0.05). Similarly, in medium co-culture with healthy SCs, by day 7, CREM and acrosin levels increased to 92.2% and 204.8%, respectively (p < 0.05). Although VASA and protamine levels increased in both groups, they did not reach a significant level. No significant difference was found between the day 7 increase rates of CREM, VASA, acrosin and protamine-2 in either FSH/testosterone-containing medium or in medium additionally co-cultured with healthy SCs (58.8% vs. 92.2%, 120.6% vs. 79.4%, 195.5% vs. 204.8%, and 232.3% vs. 198.4%, respectively; p > 0.05). Our results suggest that the presence of the patient's own SCs for maturation of germ cells in the culture medium supplemented with FSH and testosterone is sufficient, and co-culture with healthy SCs does not have an additional advantage. In addition, the freezing-thawing process would not impair the viability and proliferation of SCs.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1073
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Clinical Medicine
Issue number3
Early online date30 Jan 2023
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2023


  • Sertoli cells
  • cryopreservation
  • NOA
  • FSH
  • testosterone

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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