SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – According to University of Utah Health (U of U Health), new research published in the journal Developmental Cell suggests that abnormalities associated with aging sperm cells may be linked to an elevated body mass index (BMI). 

Though it’s common knowledge that a lessened sperm count is associated with old age, it is still unclear as to whether lifestyle or environmental factors contribute to the decline. 

“Aging may confer a combination of modest molecular changes that sensitize the testis for additional dysregulation, with pronounced dysregulation caused when aging is combined with additional factors such as obesity,” says co-senior author Bradley Cairns, Ph.D., of the University of Utah School of Medicine and Huntsman Cancer Institute.

As noted by U of U Health, in order to address this gap, Cairns, along with co-senior study author Jingato Guo, Ph.D., also of the U of U School of medicine, profiled over 44,000 cells extracted from autopsy testis samples from four younger men and eight older men. Both groups were screened for having offspring. 

As imagined, the younger samples grouped together and did not showcase any telltale signs of aging or a disrupted sperm count. Similarly, the older samples showed only moderate age-related changes. However, U of U Health notes that the cells clearly separated into two distinct groups. The first group displayed an ability to produce sperm, while the second group showed a very limited ability to develop sperm cells. An elevated BMI was seen as the main factor of a decreased sperm count among the second group of cells. 

According to U of U Health, all donors from the study’s first group had a BMI lower than 27, while all donors from the second group had a BMI above 30. For reference, a healthy BMI ranges between 18.5 to 24.9. 

In short, the study’s findings reveal that sperm count changes could be correlated to simultaneously occurring chronic conditions such as obesity. 

“Our study reveals potential biomarkers for diagnosis of testis aging and directions for potential treatment of aging-related subfertility,” says Guo. “It also serves as a foundational dataset for the scientific community to study how human testis and fertility respond to aging.”