Changes in environmental exposures over decades may influence the genetic architecture of severe spermatogenic failure

Miriam Cerván-Martín, Sara González-Muñoz, Andrea Guzmán-Jiménez, José A. Castilla, Inmaculada Higueras-Serrano, Nicolás Garrido, Saturnino Luján, Lluís Bassas, Susana Seixas, Alexandra M. Lopes, João Gonçalves, Sara Larriba, Rogelio J. Palomino-Morales, Lara Bossini-Castillo, F. David Carmona

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


STUDY QUESTION: Do the genetic determinants of idiopathic severe spermatogenic failure (SPGF) differ between generations? SUMMARY ANSWER: Our data support that the genetic component of idiopathic SPGF is impacted by dynamic changes in environmental exposures over decades. WHAT IS KNOWN ALREADY: The idiopathic form of SPGF has a multifactorial etiology wherein an interaction between genetic, epigenetic, and environmental factors leads to the disease onset and progression. At the genetic level, genome-wide association studies (GWASs) allow the analysis of millions of genetic variants across the genome in a hypothesis-free manner, as a valuable tool for identifying susceptibility risk loci. However, little is known about the specific role of non-genetic factors and their influence on the genetic determinants in this type of conditions. STUDY DESIGN, SIZE, DURATION: Case-control genetic association analyses were performed including a total of 912 SPGF cases and 1360 unaffected controls. PARTICIPANTS/MATERIALS, SETTING, METHODS: All participants had European ancestry (Iberian and German). SPGF cases were diagnosed during the last decade either with idiopathic non-obstructive azoospermia (n ¼ 547) or with idiopathic non-obstructive oligozoospermia (n ¼ 365). Case-control genetic association analyses were performed by logistic regression models considering the generation as a covariate and by in silico functional characterization of the susceptibility genomic regions. MAIN RESULTS AND THE ROLE OF CHANCE: This analysis revealed 13 novel genetic association signals with SPGF, with eight of them being independent. The observed associations were mostly explained by the interaction between each lead variant and the age-group. Additionally, we established links between these loci and diverse non-genetic factors, such as toxic or dietary habits, respiratory disorders, and autoimmune diseases, which might potentially influence the genetic architecture of idiopathic SPGF. LARGE SCALE DATA: GWAS data are available from the authors upon reasonable request. LIMITATIONS, REASONS FOR CAUTION: Additional independent studies involving large cohorts in ethnically diverse populations are warranted to confirm our findings. WIDER IMPLICATIONS OF THE FINDINGS: Overall, this study proposes an innovative strategy to achieve a more precise understanding of conditions such as SPGF by considering the interactions between a variable exposome through different generations and genetic predisposition to complex diseases. STUDY FUNDING/COMPETING INTEREST(S): This work was supported by the “Plan Andaluz de Investigación, Desarrollo e Innovación (PAIDI 2020)” (ref. PY20_00212, P20_00583), the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness through the Spanish National Plan for Scientific and Technical Research and Innovation (ref. PID2020-120157RB-I00 funded by MCIN/ AEI/10.13039/ 501100011033), and the ‘Proyectos IþDþi del Programa Operativo FEDER 2020’ (ref. B-CTS-584-UGR20). ToxOmics-Centre for Toxicogenomics and Human Health, Genetics, Oncology and Human Toxicology, is also partially supported by the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology (Projects: UIDB/00009/2020; UIDP/00009/2020). The authors declare no competing interests.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)612-622
Number of pages11
JournalHuman Reproduction
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2024


  • complex trait
  • exposome
  • genetics
  • GWAS
  • male infertility
  • spermatogenic failure


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