Development of an assay to assess the functional integrity of the human sperm membrane and its relationship to other semen characteristics

in Reproduction
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Summary. The objective of this study was to develop a relatively simple test to evaluate the functional integrity of the membranes of human spermatozoa. As in some other species, human spermatozoa 'swell' under hypo-osmotic conditions due to the influx of water and the expansion of the membranes. A mixture of equal parts of fructose and sodium citrate (150 mosmol) with calculated ionic strength of 0·15 resulted in a maximal number of clearly identifiable swollen spermatozoa. Only small variations were seen when different aliquants of the same semen samples were separately evaluated. A high correlation (r = 0·94) was obtained between expected and observed values of swollen spermatozoa when known amounts of heat-treated spermatozoa, unable to undergo swelling, were added to untreated spermatozoa. A good correlation (r = 0·90) was also observed between the % spermatozoa in a semen sample that were capable of undergoing swelling and the % of denuded hamster oocytes that were penetrated by capacitated spermatozoa from the same semen sample. By contrast, the correlations between % sperm swelling in ejaculates and % normal sperm forms, % motile spermatozoa and % spermatozoa that do not stain with eosin-Y (supravital stain) in the same ejaculates were 0·30,0·61 and 0·52, respectively. Therefore, the hypo-osmotic swelling technique to evaluate the functional integrity of the sperm membrane appears to give high repeatability and accuracy and is closely correlated to the in-vitro fertilizing ability of spermatozoa. It may be a useful addition to the standard semen analysis.


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