A new study from Chinese and American researchers reveals that the new coronavirus could potentially injure testicles without infecting its cells. After careful analysis of patient samples from Wuhan, the researchers discovered that the virus caused 'ballooning' changes and attacked cells responsible for producing sperm.
Furthermore, the scientists believe that the reaction was culminated by the virus clinging onto an enzyme on the cell's surface. On the contrary, almost no viral genes were detected in the semen and testicular tissue of patient samples. These findings suggest that a sexually transmitted infection did not cause the effects.
Additionally, the authors of the paper say that impregnation plans and sperm donation could be considered during the recuperation period for coronavirus patients. The researchers' peer-reviewed article was published in the clinical journal European Urology on Sunday.
Does Coronavirus Cause Infertility?
There have been echoes of suggestions in reports that COVID-19 might affect male fertility. Concerns have emerged because the testes are known to produce angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2), the protein the novel coronavirus binds to for it to enter cells.
Moreover, a study of 181 men from China revealed that men with COVID-19 had changes in some levels of their reproductive hormones compared to those without the virus. However, the researchers found no difference in the two groups' testosterone levels.
A limitation of the study, however, is that the researchers failed to note the men's sperm counts or sperm quality. According to Professor Paolo Madeddu from the University of Bristol, hormonal changes could be because of the general inflammation also affecting genitalia function.
On the contrary, two studies from China found no evidence of the virus in the semen of men who had recovered from COVID-19. The studies were relatively small, collecting data from only 12 and 34 men, respectively. Results from one of the studies suggested that testicular cells containing the protein ACE2 were deficient of a second protein, which the virus required to make its entrance into the cells.
What Do Testicles Have to Do With Coronavirus?
A new study identifies testes as a "reservoir" for coronavirus. The paper revealed that the virus could dwell in men's testicles for more extended periods than the rest of the body. Since testicles are "walled" from the immune system, the risk for a more secluded infection in the testes is possible.
The paper published in MedRxiv explains that high expression of ACE2 in testes boosts the possibility that testicular viral reservoirs could play a role in men's viral grit. The authors of the study call for further studies and investigation on the matter.
In the latest study, more than 80 percent of the samples showed significant damage to the seminiferous tubules. These tubules found within the testicles are where sperm is made. The study's findings also revealed how the cells making up the tubules became bigger than healthier cells, forming a balloon-like shape.
They said it was unclear how the virus did this without entering the testicular cells but speculate that spike protein and immune system malfunction could have played a role in the damage. In conclusion, the researchers say that more studies should be undertaken to look for ways somehow to diminish the risk of testicular injury during coronavirus infections.