Studying sperm motility in marine fish: an overview on the state of the art


Author’s address: Jacky Cosson, CNRS, UMR 7009, Univ. P&M Curie, Marine Station, 06230 Villefranche sur mer, France.


This contribution reviews existing literature and some new own findings on teleost sperm motility and factors controlling it, emphasizing selected marine species. In marine teleosts with external fertilization (halibut, turbot, sea bass, hake, cod and tuna serving as examples), mainly the osmolality controls sperm motility: movement is activated by transfer from the seminal fluid into sea water, representing a large upward step in osmolality. The exception are flatfishes (such as halibut or turbot) where CO2 is responsible for flagellar immotility in seminal fluid. In all cases, the duration of motility is short and limited to minutes ranges due to partial exhaustion of the ATP energy and to increase of internal ionic concentration as suggested by studies with de-membranated/ATP reactivated flagellae. In this overview, we compare motility characteristics (percentage of active spermatozoa, velocity, linearity), flagellar waves parameters (wave length and amplitude, number of waves) and energy content (respiration and ATP concentration) within species where these data have been established. All parameters show a rapid decrease after activation; therefore progressive forward movement needed by the sperm to effectively reach the egg surface, is limited to a short initial period following activation. In two species (turbot and sea bass) the rapid decrease of sperm motility is reflected by a corresponding decrease of the fertilizing ability. Exposure to external environments (sea water) at activation also leads to local defects of the sperm flagella posing additional limitations on motility duration. However, minor flagellar damages as well as energetic exhaustion are reversible: after a resting period in a non-swimming solution at the end of the motility period, spermatozoa can be re-activated for a second motility period. From these results and from additional data obtained from de-membranated/ATP re-activated spermatozoa, a paradigm has been developed which establishes a link between external osmolality (sea water), internal ionic concentration and control of axonemal activity.