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Hum Reprod. 2010 Jun;25(6):1369-82. doi: 10.1093/humrep/deq075. Epub 2010 Apr 17.

Morphometric dimensions of the human sperm head depend on the staining method used.

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Department of Medical Biosciences, University of the Western Cape, Private Bag X17, Bellville 7530, South Africa.



Assessment of sperm morphology (including morphometry) is extensively used to determine one of the qualities of a semen sample and depends on the differential staining of spermatozoa. A staining technique should cause as little change to sperm dimensions and form as possible in order to reliably evaluate the morphometric features of the sperm. Various staining techniques have been employed, but only a few have been recommended by the World Health Organization and are amenable to automated sperm morphometry analysis. Our study was aimed at comparing the effect of three staining techniques [Papanicolaou (PAP), Rapidiff (RD) and SpermBlue (SB)] on human sperm head dimensions and to compare these with the head dimensions in fresh semen.


Smears made from human semen samples (n = 24) were stained according to the three staining techniques and sperm head morphometry was assessed with the Sperm Class Analyzer. Head dimensions of fresh spermatozoa were measured with a digital calliper on a computer screen. The minimum number of spermatozoa to be analyzed to represent the sperm population and the degree of inter-laboratory variation were determined. Electron micrographs from the same semen samples were used to determine the actual acrosome coverage of the spermatozoa in the semen (n = 7) in order to verify the results of the automatic analyses.


The osmolality of human semen differs from that of the RD and PAP fixatives and stains, but is more similar to the SB fixative and stain. At least 100 spermatozoa should be analyzed to include a representative sample of the sperm population. RD caused sperm heads to swell, PAP caused them to shrink and SB had no significant effect on sperm head dimensions when compared with spermatozoa in fresh semen. Very little inter-laboratory variations were found. The percentage acrosome coverage was significantly different between the three staining techniques, as well as between the RD and PAP stains and the manual measurements obtained using the electron micrographs.


Different staining techniques change the morphometric dimensions of the human sperm head, probably due to the fact that either the fixatives or stains are not iso-osmotic in relation to human semen. Since these changes in sperm head dimensions are not uniform, care should be taken when selecting a staining technique. Ideally, stained spermatozoa should have dimensions as close to spermatozoa in fresh semen as possible, as was found with the SB staining method, resulting in accurate evaluations of sperm head morphometry.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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