Page URL:

Coronavirus may damage sperm-making cells without infecting the testes

8 June 2020
Appeared in BioNews 1050

Infection with the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, which causes the disease COVID-19, may damage testicular tissue without actually infecting the testes.

Scientists from Tongji Medical College, Wuhan, China and Tufts Medical Center, Boston, USA examined 12 men post mortem, aged 49 to 75, who died from COVID-19. Over 80 percent had substantial damage to the seminiferous tubules, that produce and maintain sperm within the testes. In addition, a lower number of Leydig cells was observed, these cells provide hormones that are needed for the production of sperm.

'We speculate that viral membrane proteins, such as the spike protein, may play a role in the injury to seminiferous tubules and Leydig cells,' the researchers wrote in their article published in European Urology Focus. However, they also state that the damage could have been caused by steroid treatment, temperature fluctuations, lack of oxygen or secondary infection during the treatment of COVID-19.

The researchers analysed tissue biopsies and examined them for presence of the virus. In only one of the twelve cases the virus was detected in the testes. In this case the individual also showed a particularly high viral load in other organs, the scientists stated. But, surprisingly they did find damage in several testicular cells that may ultimately harm fertility.

Specifically, the scientists observed a change in the visual appearance of the biopsied tissue. Seminiferous tubules showed loss or sloughing of cell mass. Sertoli cells, that are part of the seminiferous tubes, were particularly affected, appearing stretched and deformed. Additionally, the number of the hormone-producing Leydig cells was reduced.

In contrast, a control group of five individuals who died from causes unrelated to COVID-19, did not show any injuries to tubules within the testes, suggesting these testicular changes are indeed COVID-19 related. Interestingly the production of sperm was not changed in any of the twelve individuals when compared to uninfected men in the same age group.  

It is known that SARS-CoV-2 enters cells via ACE2 receptors, which are present on the surface of many cell types, including those of the male sexual reproductive organs. Even though the virus is not usually found in testes this latest study suggests that actual infection may not be the way in which the novel coronavirus damages the testes.

As this study only focused on patients who had died from COVID-19, it yet remains to be investigated whether patients with less severe disease progression suffer from similar deformation of testicular tissue. It is also unknown whether this may be temporary or could result in permanent damage of the tissue.

1 February 2021 - by Jen Willows 
A new research paper warns that COVID-19 can affect men's sperm, but it may not be that simpleā€¦
9 November 2020 - by Javier Bautista 
COVID-19 can invade testes in men who are infected with the virus, suggesting potential implications to male fertility, according to a new study....
15 June 2020 - by Emma Lamb 
Viral DNA that models the coronavirus was present on nearly half of all ward sample sites after just tenĀ hours in a simulation study...
15 June 2020 - by Emma Bunting 
What if it were possible to improve IVF success rates, and reduce miscarriages by selecting the best sperm?
11 May 2020 - by Dr Laura Riggall 
The novel coronavirus can persist in the semen of men who are recovering following infection, according to a new study...
16 March 2020 - by Dr Laura Riggall 
A report published online that suggests the novel coronavirus may lead to male infertility has now been removed...
to add a Comment.

By posting a comment you agree to abide by the BioNews terms and conditions

Syndicate this story - click here to enquire about using this story.