Hum Reprod Update. 2005 May 12; [Epub ahead of print]
AZF deletions and Y chromosomal haplogroups: history and update based on sequence.
AZF deletions are genomic deletions in the euchromatic part of the long arm of the human Y chromosome (Yq11) associated with azoospermia or severe oligozoospermia. Consequently, it can be assumed that these deletions remove Y chromosomal genes required for spermatogenesis. However, these 'classical' or 'complete' AZF deletions, AZFa, AZFb and AZFc, represent only a subset of rearrangements in Yq11. With the benefit of the Y chromosome sequence, more rearrangements (deletions, duplications, inversions) inside and outside the classical AZF deletion intervals have been elucidated and intra-chromosomal non-allelic homologous recombinations (NAHRs) of repetitive sequence blocks have been identified as their major cause. These include duplications in AZFa, AZFb and AZFc and the partial AZFb and AZFc deletions of which some were summarized under the pseudonym 'gr/gr' deletions. At least some of these rearrangements are associated with distinct Y chromosomal haplogroups and are present with similar frequencies in fertile and infertile men. This suggests a functional redundancy of the AZFb/AZFc multi-copy genes. Alternatively, the functional contribution(s) of these genes to human spermatogenesis might be different in men of different Y haplogroups. That raises the question whether, the frequency of Y haplogroups with different AZF gene contents in distinct human populations leads to a male fertility status that varies between populations or whether, the presence of the multiple Y haplogroups implies a balancing selection via genomic deletion/amplification mechanisms.