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Reproduction. 2008 Sep;136(3):277-94. doi: 10.1530/REP-07-0522. Epub 2008 Jun 4.

Marine fish spermatozoa: racing ephemeral swimmers.

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  • 1CNRS, Univ. of Paris VI, P&M Curie, UMR 7009, Marine Station, 06230 Villefranche sur mer, France.


After a long period of spermatogenesis (several weeks to months), marine fish spermatozoa are delivered at male spawning in seawater (SW) at the same time as ova. In some fish species, as the ova micropyle closes quickly after release, these minute unicells, the spermatozoa, have to accomplish their task of reaching the micropyle within a very brief period (several seconds to minutes), for delivery of the haploid male genetic information to the ova. To achieve this goal, their high-performance motile equipment, the flagellum, must fully activate immediately on contact with the SW and then propel the sperm cell at an unusually high initial velocity. The cost of such 'hyperactivity' is a very rapid consumption of intracellular ATP that outstrips the supply. The spermatozoa become rapidly exhausted because mitochondria cannot compensate for this very fast flagellar energy consumption. Therefore, any spermatozoon ends up with two possibilities: either becoming exhausted and immotile or reaching the egg micropyle within its very short period of forward motility (in the range of tens of seconds) before micropyle closure in relation to both contact of SW and cortical reaction. The aim of the present review is to present step by step the successive events occurring in marine fish spermatozoa from activation until their full arrest of motility. The present knowledge of activation mechanisms is summarized, as well as a description of the motility parameters characterizing the motility period. As a complement, in vitro results on axonemal motility obtained after demembranation of flagella bring further understanding. The description of the sperm energetic content (ATP and other high energy compounds) and its evolution during the swimming period is also discussed. A general model aiming to explain all the successive cellular events occurring immediately after the activation is presented. This model is proposed as a guideline for understanding the events governing the sperm lifespan in the marine fish species that reproduce through external fertilization.

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