Objective: To determine the rate at which mild acidity immobilizes and kills human sperm and to evaluate an acidic microbicide, BufferGel, for sperm immobilization.
Design: Controlled in vitro study.
Setting: An academic research university and hospital andrology lab.
Patient(s): Eight volunteer male sperm donors.
Intervention(s): Semen samples were treated with hydrochloric acid (HCl) or BufferGel.
Main outcome measure(s): Sperm motility was measured by using a computerized automated semen analyzer and video microscopy. Sperm membrane permeability and intracellular pH were measured by using fluorescent techniques.
Result(s): In semen acidified with HCl to pH 4.0, sperm were rapidly immobilized (within 1 min) and were irreversibly immobilized (killed) within 10 minutes. The speed of immobilization and of killing were both linearly proportional to hydrogen ion activity over a pH range of 7.5-4.0. Across the same range, the intracellular pH of human sperm equilibrated to within 0.5 pH units of extracellular pH within 1-2 minutes. BufferGel immobilized sperm significantly faster than HCl from pH 4.0-6.0.
Conclusion(s): Exposure to mild acidity rapidly acidifies the intracellular pH of human sperm and is rapidly spermicidal. BufferGel accelerates acid immobilization of sperm.