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Developmental Biology

Fluorimetric Techniques for the Assessment of Sperm Membranes

Published: November 28th, 2018



1Animal Sperm Research Center, Department of Animal Sciences, Robert H. Smith Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Environment, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 2Department of Animal Sciences, Robert H. Smith Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Environment, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Here, we present methodologies to evaluate spermatozoan membrane integrity, a cellular feature associated with sperm fertilization competence. We describe three techniques for the fluorimetric assessment of sperm membranes: simultaneous staining with specific fluorescent probes, fluorescence microscopy, and advanced sperm-dedicated flow cytometry. Examples of combining the methodologies are also presented.

Standard spermiograms describing sperm quality are mostly based on the physiological and visual parameters, such as ejaculate volume and concentration, motility and progressive motility, and sperm morphology and viability. However, none of these assessments is good enough to predict the semen quality. Given that maintenance of sperm viability and fertilization potential depends on membrane integrity and intracellular functionality, evaluation of these parameters might enable a better prediction of sperm fertilization competence. Here, we describe three feasible methods to evaluate sperm quality using specific fluorescent probes combined with fluorescence microscopy or flow cytometry analyses. Analyses assessed plasma membrane integrity using 4',6-diamidino-2-phenylindole (DAPI) and propidium iodide (PI), acrosomal membrane integrity using fluorescein isothiocyanate-conjugated Pisum sativum agglutinin (FITC-PSA) and mitochondrial membrane integrity using 5,5',6,6'-tetra-chloro-1,1',3,3'-tetraethylbenzimidazolyl carbocyanine iodide (JC-1). Combinations of these methods are also presented. For instance, use of annexin V combined with PI fluorochromes enables assessing apoptosis and calculating the proportion of apoptotic sperm (apoptotic index). We believe that these methodologies, which are based on examining spermatozoon membranes, are very useful for the evaluation of sperm quality.

Integrity and functionality of sperm membranes are a few of the factors indicating sperm viability and fertilization potential. The plasma membrane acts as a barrier between intracellular and extracellular compartments, thereby maintaining the cellular osmotic equilibrium1. Any stress that induces damage to the plasma membrane integrity might impair homeostasis, reduce viability and fertilization capacity, and increase cell death. For instance, cryopreservation reduces sperm viability due to damage to its plasma membrane, as a result of temperature changes and osmotic stress2. We previously reported that exposing bull sp....

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All of the experiments were performed in accordance with the 1994 Israeli guidelines for animal welfare. Bovine sperm was supplied by commercial Israeli company for artificial insemination and breeding. Ejaculates of 11 bulls were evaluated in this study.

1. Sperm Sample Preparation

NOTE: The procedure is based on the Roth laboratory's protocol1,3.

  1. Obtain approximately 1̵.......

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Figure 1 shows simultaneous fluorimetric assessment of sperm membranes (plasma, acrosomal and mitochondrial) using PI, DAPI, FITC-PSA and JC-1. Assessment of sperm membranes using simultaneous staining with four fluorescent probes allows, for example, evaluating the proportion of sperm in each category—live vs. dead; high vs. low ΔΨm; intact vs. damaged acrosome—simultaneously for each spermatozoon.

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Sperm fertilization potential depends on multiple factors reflecting its quality. A high concentration of spermatozoa and a high proportion of highly progressively motile spermatozoa might be considered high-quality semen. Nevertheless, such an evaluation does not take into account other cellular and functional parameters. The use of 'bench-top' microcapillary flow cytometer can be easily adapted to evaluation of various sperm structures using fluorescent probes, as previously shown by others17<.......

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The authors would like to thank "SION" Israeli company for artificial insemination and breeding (Hafetz-Haim, Israel) for their help and cooperation, and Ms. Li Na (IMV Technologies, L'Aigle, France) for assistance with the instrument setup and training.


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Name Company Catalog Number Comments
NaCl Sigma S5886
KCl Sigma P5405
MOPS [3-N-morphilino propanesulfonic acid] Sigma M1254
PBS Sigma P5493
DMSO Sigma D2438
Ethanol absolute Sigma 64-17-5
Hemacytometer Neubauer Germany hemocytometer
DAPI (4',6-diamidino-2-phenylindole) Sigma D9542 fluorescent probe
PI (propidium iodide ) Sigma P4170 fluorescent probe
FITC-PSA (fluorescein isothiocyanate-conjugated Pisum sativum agglutinin ) Sigma L0770 fluorescent probe
JC-1 (5,5',6,6'-tetra-chloro-1,1',3,3'-tetraethylbenzimidazolyl carbocyanine iodide) ENZOBiochem, New York, NY, USA ENZ52304 fluorescent probe
Annexin V conjugated to FITC MACS, Miltenyi Biotec 130-093-060 fluorescent probe
Annexin V binding buffer 20X stock solution MACS, Miltenyi Biotec 130-092-820 buffer
Nikon Eclipse, TE-2000-u Nikon, Tokyo, Japan inverted fluorescence microscope
Nis Elements Nikon, Tokyo, Japan software
Nikon DXM1200F Nikon, Tokyo, Japan digital camera
Guava EasyCyte Plus IMV Technologies, L'Aigle, France microcapillary sperm flow cytometer
CytoSoft Guava Technologies Inc., Hayward, CA, USA; distributed by IMV Technologies software
Buffered solution for cytometry IMV Technologies, L'Aigle, France 023862 buffer
Viability and concentration kit IMV Technologies, L'Aigle, France 024708 kit for viability assessment
Mitochondrial activity kit IMV Technologies, L'Aigle, France 024864 kit for mitochondrial activity assessment
Viability & acrosome integrity kit IMV Technologies, L'Aigle, France 025293 kit for acrosome integrity assessment
JMP-13 SAS Institute Inc., 2004, ary, NC, USA software
Bovine sperm "SION", Israeli company for artificial insemination and dreeding, Hafetz-Haim, Israel

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