Mutations in the stromal antigen 3 (STAG3) gene cause male infertility due to meiotic arrest

N. Van Der Bijl, A. Röpke, U. Biswas, M. Wöste, R. Jessberger, S. Kliesch, C. Friedrich, F. Tüttelmann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Scopus citations


STUDY QUESTION: Are sequence variants in the stromal antigen 3 (STAG3) gene a cause for non-obstructive azoospermia (NOA) in infertile human males? SUMMARY ANSWER: Sequence variants affecting protein function of STAG3 cause male infertility due to meiotic arrest. WHAT IS KNOWN ALREADY: In both women and men, STAG3 encodes for a meiosis-specific protein that is crucial for the functionality of meiotic cohesin complexes. Sequence variants in STAG3 have been reported to cause meiotic arrest in male and female mice and premature ovarian failure in human females, but not in infertile human males so far. STUDY DESIGN, SIZE, DURATION: The full coding region of STAG3 was sequenced directly in a cohort of 28 men with NOA due to meiotic arrest. In addition, a larger group of 275 infertile men that underwent whole-exome sequencing (WES) was screened for potential STAG3 sequence variants. Furthermore, meiotic spreads, immunohistochemistry, WES and population sampling probability (PSAP) have been conducted in the index case. PARTICIPANTS/MATERIALS, SETTING, METHODS: This study included 28 infertile but otherwise healthy human males who underwent Sanger sequencing of the full coding region of STAG3. Additionally, WES data of 275 infertile human males with different infertility phenotypes have been screened for relevant STAG3 variants. All participants underwent karyotype analysis and azoospermia factor (AZF) screening in advance. In the index patient, segregation analysis, WES data, PSAP, lab parameters, testis histology and nuclear spreads have been added to suplort the findings. MAIN RESULTS AND THE ROLE OF CHANCE: Two compound-heterozygous variants in STAG3 (c.[1262T>G];[1312C>T], p.[(Leu421Arg)];[(Arg438Ter)]) have been found to cause male infertility due to complete bilateral meiotic arrest in an otherwise healthy human male. Compound heterozygosity was confirmed by Sanger sequencing of the parents and the patient's brother. Other variants which may affect spermatogenesis have been ruled out through analysis of the patient's WES data and application of the PSAP pipeline. As expected from Stag3 knockout-mice meiotic spreads, germ cells did not develop further than zygotene and showed drastic chromosome aberrations. No rare variants in STAG3 were found in the 275 infertile males with other phenotypes. Our results indicate that STAG3 variants that negatively affect its protein function are a rare cause of NOA (<1% of cases). LIMITATIONS, REASONS FOR CAUTION: We identified only one patient with compound-heterozygous variants in STAG3 causing NOA due to meiotic arrest. Future studies should evaluate STAG3 variants in larger cohorts to support this finding. WIDER IMPLICATIONS OF THE FINDINGS: Identification of STAG3 sequence variants in infertile human males should improve genetic counselling as well as diagnostics and treatment. Especially before testicular sperm extraction (TESE) for ICSI, STAG3 variants should be ruled out to prevent unnecessary interventions with frustrating outcomes for both patients and clinicians. STUDY FUNDING/COMPETING INTEREST(S): This work was carried out within the frame of the German Research Foundation (DFG) Clinical Research Unit 'Male Germ Cells: from Genes to Function' (CRU326). Work in the laboratory of R.J. is supported by a grant of the European Union H2020 program GermAge. The authors declare no conflicts of interest. TRIAL REGISTRATION NUMBER: Not applicable.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2112-2119
Number of pages8
JournalHuman Reproduction
Issue number11
StatePublished - 1 Nov 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Male infertility
  • Meiotic arrest
  • Non-obstructive azoospermia
  • STAG3
  • Sequence analysis


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