What is DNA Fragmentation?

Posted by & filed under IVF, Sperm, Tests, The Basics, The Journey.

The DNA Fragmentation is one of several elements of semen quality used to assess the male fertility potential.

Sperm’s ability to fertilize an egg is dependant on healthy DNA. But some sperm are fragmented.

Healthy DNA is arranged in a double-helix spiral bound by cross-bonds resembling a ladder. DNA damage means the bridges become unstable or broken causing instability in the DNA ladder.

That instability is referred to as fragmentation or damage of the DNA. If there is a high amount, you’ll likely see a reduction in male fertility, poor embryo development and lower rates of implantation.

Scientific literature shows that the extent of DNA fragmentation has little relevance to the basic semen quality parameters (concentration, motility, morphology, etc.) For example, a “good” sperm sample with high concentration, motility and morphology doesn’t guarantee you’ll get pregnant if there’s poor DNA Fragmentation Index (DFI).


Why is DNA Fragmentation important in the assessment of male fertility?

The test (flow-cytometry or TUNEL assays) is used to count the number of sperm cells per sample that contain suboptimal, damaged or fragmented DNA.


What are the values and what do they mean?

DNA Fragmentation Index (DFI) is used to quantify DNA damage in the sperm. DFI is inversely related to sperm’s ability to fertilize an egg and produce a viable embryo. DFI of less than 15% in sample is considered optimal. DFI between 16-29% is considered to be good or fair fertility potential. Sperm with DFI over 30% is considered to have poor fertility potential. Although exceptions do exist, these percent ranges have been established based on numerous scientific publications over many years of research.


What does testing mean for our ability to conceive?

  • More accurate assessment of semen sample quality
  • May explain previous failed attempts to conceive
  • Determine suitability for IUI versus IVF/ISCI
  • Assessment of efficacy of medical intervention or treatment of infectious diseases to improve
  • Ultimately improve fertility potential of the male partner


What are the causes of DNA damage?

We don’t yet know all of the factors that lead to DNA damage. Most common ones we do know are chemical/toxin exposure, heat exposure, varicocele, age, infection, smoking, alcohol, radiation or testicular cancer.

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