Spermatozoa of many species initially respond to hypotonicity as perfect osmometers. Thereafter they undergo a regulatory process resulting in a decrease in cell volume, similar to that reported for somatic cells. Regulatory volume increase (RVI), a complementary process which is assumed to occur following initial shrinkage of sperm volume after exposure to a hypertonic medium, has not yet been described in detail for spermatozoa. In this study, we investigated whether spermatozoa are able to regulate their volume after hypertonic stress and whether this ability is maintained in preserved sperm. Cell volume changes were recorded using electronic cell sizing. Sperm response to the ion channels blockers quinidine, tamoxifen, and dydeoxyforskolin, and to protein kinase/phosphatase inhibitors lavendustin, staurosporine, and vanadate was studied to investigate possible mechanisms of RVI. Annexin V staining was used in combination with propidium iodide to determine whether hypertonic stress may induce apoptosis. Overall protein tyrosine phosphorylation under hypertonic conditions was measured via flow cytometry using antiphosphotyrosine antibody. Spermatozoa exposed to hypertonic stress initially responded with an abundant subpopulation according to the perfect osmometer model and recovered their volume from this shrinkage after 20 min. RVI was inhibited by quinidine and tamoxifen, which indicates the involvement of the important cellular ions sodium and chloride in this process. Volume regulatory ability was essentially maintained during storage of liquid semen. However, the response of the sperm population was heterogeneous. A second population raised, containing spermatozoa with larger volumes, which demonstrated irregularities in the volume response with respect to osmotic challenge, ion channel blockers, and storage. Under hypertonic conditions, both protein kinase inhibitors (PKI) led to increased isotonic volumes and to elevated initial relative volumes and subsequent volume decrease. RVI was inhibited by the vanadate. Hypertonic stress did not result in an increase in early apoptotic cells, but produced a shift toward late necrotic cells. Substitution of sodium and chloride by choline and sulfate resulted in decreased isotonic volume of sperm treated with lavendustin. Tyrosine phosphorylation levels were reduced after 20 min under hypertonic conditions. It was concluded that RVI is regulated via a protein tyrosine kinase-dependent pathway, and that dephosphorylation occurs when volume regulation is required. The necrotic volume increase (NVI) is associated with the accumulation of sodium and chloride following uncontrolled opening of the channels. The ability to regulate volume after exposure to hypertonic conditions is important for sperm functionality and can have practical applications in spermatological diagnostics and cryopreservation. © 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.