The relationship between human sperm maturity and apoptosis is of interest because of the persistence of immature sperm in ejaculates in spite of various apoptotic processes during spermatogenesis. We assessed sperm maturity by HspA2 chaperone levels, and plasma membrane maturity by sperm binding to immobilized hyaluronic acid (HA). We also utilized objective morphometry. Sperm were stained with three antibody combinations: active caspase-3/creatine kinase (CK, a marker of cytoplasmic retention), caspase-3/the antiapoptotic Bcl-(XL), and CK/Bcl-(XL). In semen, 13% of sperm stained with CK, caspase-3 or Bcl-(XL), and 28% had stained with two markers. In the mature HA-bound sperm fraction, <4% were single- or double-stained. Regarding sperm regions, CK staining, whether alone or as double staining, occurred in the head and midpiece (15-20%), whereas caspase-3 and Bcl-(XL) were primarily (>80% of sperm) in the midpiece. Morphometrical attributes of clear, single- and double-stained sperm, in line with their more pronounced maturation arrest, showed an incremental increase in head size (due to cytoplasmic retention) and shorter tail length. We hypothesize that during faulty sperm development, three alternatives may occur: (i) elimination of aberrant germ cells by apoptosis; (ii) in surviving immature cells, caspase-3 is activated, and in response the antiapoptotic Bcl-(XL), and perhaps HspA2, provide protection; (iii) in a third type of immature sperm, in addition to the CK, caspase-3 and Bcl-(XL) expression, there are related manifestations of increased head size and shorter tail length. Thus, immature sperm may vary in the type of developmental arrest and in protection mechanisms for apoptosis. These variations are likely to explain the persistence of immature sperm in the ejaculate.
Sperm Physiology, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT 06525