Reproductive aging of the male is characterized by decreasing fertility; however, factors that protect against reproductive aging in the male are largely unknown. Previous work has demonstrated that both female presence and aging have a dramatic effect on fertility in the male; yet, the effect of female presence on fertility in the aging male mouse is unknown. The objective of this work was to determine the effect of long-term isolation or cohabitation with females on fertility in aged male mice. Male mice were housed with or without females until between 16 and 32 mo of age. Males were subjected to fertility tests at specific ages, after which serum and testes were isolated for radioimmunoassay and histological analysis. We show that male mice continuously housed with females remain fertile longer (∼20% of the reproductive lifespan) than male mice housed alone. Fertility became significantly reduced 6 mo sooner for males housed alone compared with males housed with females; however, the rate of decline was the same for males housed with or without females once fertility began to decrease. Testis weight decreased as the mice aged, and a nearly significant positive effect of female presence was observed. Additionally, histological analysis indicated that abnormal spermatogenesis occurred sooner in isolated males, suggesting that defects in spermatogenesis may play a role in the greater decrease in fertility in isolated males. These results have significant implications for the maintenance of male fertility in wildlife, livestock, and human populations.
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Vol. 80 • No. 5