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Evaluating genetic causes of azoospermia: What can we learn from a complex cellular structure and single-cell transcriptomics of the human testis?

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Azoospermia is a condition defined as the absence of spermatozoa in the ejaculate, but the testicular phenotype of men with azoospermia may be very variable, ranging from full spermatogenesis, through arrested maturation of germ cells at different stages, to completely degenerated tissue with ghost tubules. Hence, information regarding the cell-type-specific expression patterns is needed to prioritise potential pathogenic variants that contribute to the pathogenesis of azoospermia. Thanks to technological advances within next-generation sequencing, it is now possible to obtain detailed cell-type-specific expression patterns in the testis by single-cell RNA sequencing. However, to interpret single-cell RNA sequencing data properly, substantial knowledge of the highly sophisticated data processing and visualisation methods is needed. Here we review the complex cellular structure of the human testis in different types of azoospermia and outline how known genetic alterations affect the pathology of the testis. We combined the currently available single-cell RNA sequencing datasets originating from the human testis into one dataset covering 62,751 testicular cells, each with a median of 2637 transcripts quantified. We show what effects the most common data-processing steps have, and how different visualisation methods can be used. Furthermore, we calculated expression patterns in pseudotime, and show how splicing rates can be used to determine the velocity of differentiation during spermatogenesis. With the combined dataset we show expression patterns and network analysis of genes known to be involved in the pathogenesis of azoospermia. Finally, we provide the combined dataset as an interactive online resource where expression of genes and different visualisation methods can be explored (https://testis.cells.ucsc.edu/).

Original languageEnglish
JournalHuman Genetics
Pages (from-to)183-201
Number of pages19
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2021

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