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Volume 14, Issue 2 (March 2012) 14, 260–269; 10.1038/aja.2011.133

Sperm preparation: state-of-the-art--physiological aspects and application of advanced sperm preparation methods

Ralf Henkel

Department of Medical Biosciences, University of the Western Cape, Bellville 7535, South Africa

Correspondence: Professor R Henkel, (rhenkel@uwc.ac.za)

Received 6 May 2011; Revised 30 June 2011; Accepted 26 August 2011; Advance online publication 5 December 2011


For assisted reproduction technologies (ART), numerous techniques were developed to isolate spermatozoa capable of fertilizing oocytes. While early methodologies only focused on isolating viable, motile spermatozoa, with progress of ART, particularly intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), it became clear that these parameters are insufficient for the identification of the most suitable spermatozoon for fertilization. Conventional sperm preparation techniques, namely, swim-up, density gradient centrifugation and glass wool filtration, are not efficient enough to produce sperm populations free of DNA damage, because these techniques are not physiological and not modeled on the stringent sperm selection processes taking place in the female genital tract. These processes only allow one male germ cell out of tens of millions to fuse with the oocyte. Sites of sperm selection in the female genital tract are the cervix, uterus, uterotubal junction, oviduct, cumulus oophorus and the zona pellucida. Newer strategies of sperm preparation are founded on: (i) morphological assessment by means of 'motile sperm organelle morphological examination (MSOME)'; (ii) electrical charge; and (iii) molecular binding characteristics of the sperm cell. Whereas separation methods based on electrical charge take advantage of the sperm's adherence to a test tube surface or separate in an electrophoresis, molecular binding techniques use Annexin V or hyaluronic acid (HA) as substrates. Techniques in this category are magnet-activated cell sorting, Annexin V-activated glass wool filtration, flow cytometry and picked spermatozoa for ICSI (PICSI) from HA-coated dishes and HA-containing media. Future developments may include Raman microspectrometry, confocal light absorption and scattering spectroscopic microscopy and polarization microscopy.

Keywords: advanced sperm selection; biomimetics; conventional sperm selection; female genital tract; physiological sperm selection

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