Flagellar movement of human spermatozoa held by their heads with a micropipette was recorded by means of a video-strobe system. Spermatozoa were studied in normal Hanks' solution, Hanks' solution with increased viscosity, cervical mucus, and hyaluronic acid.
When flagellar movement in normal Hanks' solution was observed from the direction parallel to the beating plane, segments of the flagellum in focus did not lie on a straight line but on two diverging dashed lines. The distance between the two dashed lines was about 20% of the bend amplitude in the major beating plane. These observations indicate that flagellar beating of human spermatozoa in normal Hanks' solution is not planar. In contrast, segments of the flagellum in focus lay on a straight line when the spermatozoa were observed in Hanks' solution with increased viscosity, cervical mucus, or hyaluronic acid. In normal Hanks' solution, free swimming spermatozoa rotated constantly around their longitudinal axes with a frequency similar to the beat frequency, whereas little or no rotation of spermatozoa occurred in Hanks' solution with increased viscosity, in cervical mucus, or in hyaluronic acid.
We conclude that human spermatozoa in normal Hanks' solution beat with a conical helical waveform having an elliptical cross section, the semiaxes of which have a ratio of 0.2. The three-dimensional geometry of the flagellar movement is responsible for the rotation of the sperm around their longitudinal axes.