Human spermatozoa migration in microchannels reveals boundary-following navigation

Petr Denissenko, Vasily Kantsler, David J Smith, Jackson Kirkman-Brown

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

151 Citations (Scopus)


The migratory abilities of motile human spermatozoa in vivo are essential for natural fertility, but it remains a mystery what properties distinguish the tens of cells which find an egg from the millions of cells ejaculated. To reach the site of fertilization, sperm must traverse narrow and convoluted channels, filled with viscous fluids. To elucidate individual and group behaviors that may occur in the complex three-dimensional female tract environment, we examine the behavior of migrating sperm in assorted microchannel geometries. Cells rarely swim in the central part of the channel cross-section, instead traveling along the intersection of the channel walls ("channel corners"). When the channel turns sharply, cells leave the corner, continuing ahead until hitting the opposite wall of the channel, with a distribution of departure angles, the latter being modulated by fluid viscosity. If the channel bend is smooth, cells depart from the inner wall when the curvature radius is less than a threshold value close to 150 μm. Specific wall shapes are able to preferentially direct motile cells. As a consequence of swimming along the corners, the domain occupied by cells becomes essentially one-dimensional, leading to frequent collisions, and needs to be accounted for when modeling the behavior of populations of migratory cells and considering how sperm populate and navigate the female tract. The combined effect of viscosity and three-dimensional architecture should be accounted for in future in vitro studies of sperm chemoattraction.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8007-8010
Number of pages4
JournalNational Academy of Sciences. Proceedings
Issue number21
Publication statusPublished - 22 May 2012


  • Cell Movement
  • Fertility
  • Humans
  • Sperm-Ovum Interactions
  • Sperm Head
  • Spermatozoa
  • Sperm Motility
  • Models, Biological
  • Sperm Tail
  • Rheology
  • Viscosity
  • Female
  • Male


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