Obesity, a serious etiologic factor for male subfertility in modern society
Obesity, defined as excessive accumulation of fat in adipose tissue, is a metabolic disorder resulting from behavioral, environmental and heritable causes. Obesity increases the risks of hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, sleep apnea, respiratory problems, osteoarthritis and cancer. Meanwhile, the negative impact of obesity on male reproduction is gradually recognized. According to the clinical investigations and animal experiments, obesity is correlated with reductions in sperm concentration and motility, increase in sperm DNA damage and changes in reproductive hormones. Several mechanisms can elucidate the effects of obesity on sperm functions and male subfertility, i.e., the excessive conversion of androgens into estrogens in redundant adipose tissue causes sexual hormone imbalance, subsequently resulting in hypogonadism. Secondly, adipokines produced by adipose tissue induce severe inflammation and oxidative stress in male reproductive tract, directly impairing testicular and epididymal tissues. Moreover, increased scrotal adiposity leads to increase gonadal heat, continuously hurting spermatogenesis. Therefore, obesity alters the systematic and regional environment crucial for spermatogenesis in testis and sperm maturation in epididymis, and finally results in poor sperm quality including decreased sperm motility, abnormal sperm morphology and acrosome reaction, changed membrane lipids and increased DNA damage. Furthermore, recent studies indicate that epigenetic changes may be a consequence of increased adiposity. A major effort to identify epigenetic determinants of obesity revealed that sperm DNA methylation and non-coding RNA modification are associated with BMI changes and proposed to inherit metabolic comorbidities across generations. This review will explain how obesity-related changes in males to influence sperm function and male fertility as well.