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J Reprod Dev. 2006 Aug;52(4):561-8. Epub 2006 Jun 7.

The relationship between sperm morphology and in vitro fertilization ability in mice.

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Department of Veterinary Science, National Institute of Infectious Diseases, Japan.


In vitro fertilization (IVF) is widely used in reproduction research, but the sperm of some inbred strains of mice yield low fertilization rates in IVF. To determine the cause of this problem, we examined the effect of epididymal sperm morphology, in particular, tail bending and the presence and type of cytoplasmic droplet (CD), on fertilizability in vitro. Sperm suspensions were obtained from the following five strains: C57BL/6J, BALB/cA, C3H/HeN, DBA/2J, and 129 x 1/SvJ. The sperm were fixed in 10% formalin and three parts of the sperm, namely the head, tail, and CD, were examined. We recorded the proportion of abnormal sperm heads and hairpins at the neck; tails were categorized as straight, proximal bent, or distal bent; and the CDs were categorized as none, light-type, and heavy-type. Based on these parameters, we determined the correlations between sperm morphology and fertilizability in vitro, as judged by IVF using ICR oocytes. The proportion of sperm with a hairpin neck was higher in strain C57BL/6J, while abnormal head morphology occurred significantly more often in strain BALB/cA. The percentage of sperm with a proximal bent tail was highest in strain DBA/2J and lowest in strain 129 x 1/SvJ. A heavy-type CD was observed more frequently in the 129 x 1/SvJ and C57BL/6J strains than in the other three strains in which a light-type CD predominated. The rank order of the fertilization rates was 129 x 1/SvJ < C57BL/6J < C3H/HeN < BALB/cA < DBA/2J. In addition, fertilization rate was positively correlated with a proximal bent tail, but negatively correlated with a heavy-type CD and distal bent tail. This new classification system establishes that the morphological characteristics of epididymal sperm differ among inbred strains of mice and that tail and CD morphology are closely related to fertilization ability in IVF. Thus, our results provide a novel method for assessing the quality of mouse sperm used for IVF.

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