Seminal plasma untargeted metabolomic and lipidomic profiling for the identification of a novel panel of biomarkers and therapeutic targets related to male infertility
Male infertility occurs approximately in about 50% of all infertility cases and represents a serious concern worldwide. Traditional semen analysis alone is insufficient to diagnose male infertility. Over the past two decades, advances in omics technologies have led to the widespread application of metabolomics profiling as a valuable diagnostic tool for various diseases and disorders. Seminal plasma represents a rich and easily accessible source of metabolites surrounding spermatozoa, a milieu that provides several indispensable nutrients to sustain sperm motility and fertilization. Changes of metabolic profiles in seminal plasma reflect male reproductive tract disorders. Here, we performed seminal plasma metabolomics and lipidomics profiling to identify a new pattern of biomarkers of male infertility. Seminal plasma samples from unfertile subjects ( n = 31) and fertile controls ( n = 19) were analyzed using an untargeted metabolomics/lipidomics integrated approach, based on Ultra-High-Pressure Liquid Chromatography–tandem Mass Spectrometry. Partial Least Squares-Discriminant Analysis showed a distinct separation between healthy fertile men and infertile subjects. Among the 15 selected candidate biomarkers based on Variable Importance in Projection scores, phosphatidylethanolamine (PE) (18:1; 18:1) resulted with the highest score. In total, 40 molecular species showed statistically significant variations between fertile and infertile men. Heat-map and volcano plot analysis indicated that acylcarnitines, phosphatidylserine (PS) (40:2) and lactate were decreased, while PE (18:1; 18:1), Phosphatidic acid (PA) (O-19:2; 18:1), Lysophosphatidylethanolamine (LPE) (O-16:1) and Phosphatidylcholine (PC) (O-16:2; 18:1)-CH3 were increased in the infertile group. The present study is the first one to analyze the metabolomics/lipidomics dysregulation in seminal plasma between fertile and infertile individuals regardless of sub-infertility condition. Association of several metabolites/lipids dysregulation with male infertility reinforced data of previous studies performed with different approaches. In particular, we confirmed significantly decreased levels of PS and carnitines in infertile patients as well as the positive correlation with sperm motility and morphology. If validated on a larger prospective cohort, the metabolite biomarkers of infertility in seminal plasma we identified in the present study might inform novel strategies for diagnosis and interventions to overcome male infertility.