Continuous behavioural 'switching' in human spermatozoa and its regulation by Ca2+-mobilising stimuli

Cosmas Achikanu, Joao Correia, HA Guidobaldi, LC Giojalas, Christopher L. R. Barratt, S M Da Silva, Steve Publicover

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Human sperm show a variety of different behaviours (types of motility) that have different functional roles. Previous reports suggest that sperm may reversibly switch between these behaviours. We have recorded and analysed the behaviour of individual human sperm (180 cells in total), each cell monitored continuously for 3-3.5 min either under control conditions or in the presence of Ca2+-mobilising stimuli. Switching between different behaviours was assessed visually (1 s bins using 4 behaviour categories), and was verified by fractal dimension analysis of sperm head tracks. In the absence of stimuli, approximately 90% of cells showed at least one behavioural transition (mean rate under control conditions = 6.4 ± 0.8 transitions.min-1). Type 1 behaviour (progressive, activated-like motility) was most common but the majority of cells (>70%) displayed at least three behaviour types. Treatment of sperm with Ca2+-mobilising agonists had negligible effects on the rate of switching but increased the time spent in type 2 and type 3 (hyperactivation-like) behaviours (P < 2*10-8; chi square). Treatment with 4-aminopyridine under alkaline conditions (pHo = 8.5), a highly-potent Ca2+-mobilising stimulus, was the most effective in increasing the proportion of type 3 behaviour, biasing switching away from type 1 (P < 0.005) and dramatically extending the duration of type 3 events (P < 10-16). Other stimuli, including 300 nM progesterone and 1% human follicular fluid, had qualitatively similar effects but were less potent. We conclude that human sperm observed in vitro constitutively display a range of behaviours and regulation of motility by [Ca2+]i, at the level of the single cell, is achieved not by causing cells to adopt a 'new' behaviour but by changing the relative contributions of those behaviours.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbergaz034
Pages (from-to)423-432
JournalMolecular Human Reproduction
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 13 Jun 2019


  • behaviour
  • calcium—pH
  • motility
  • spermatozoa


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