Molecular architecture of the sperm flagella: molecules for motility and signaling

Zoolog Sci. 2003 Sep;20(9):1043-56. doi: 10.2108/zsj.20.1043.


Sperm motility is generated by a highly organized, microtubule-based structure, called the axoneme, which is constructed from approximately 250 proteins. Recent studies have revealed the molecular structures and functions of a number of axonemal components, including the motor molecules, the dyneins, and regulatory substructures, such as radial spoke, central pair, and other accessory structures. The force for flagellar movement is exerted by the sliding of outer-doublet microtubules driven by the molecular motors, the dyneins. Dynein activity is regulated by the radial spoke/central pair apparatus through protein phosphorylation, resulting in flagellar bend propagation. Prior to fertilization, sperm exhibit dramatic motility changes, such as initiation and activation of motility and chemotaxis toward the egg. These changes are triggered by changes in the extracellular ionic environment and substances released from the female reproductive tract or egg. After reception of these extracellular signals by specific ion channels or receptors in the sperm cells, intracellular signals are switched on through tyrosine protein phosphorylation, Ca2+, and cyclic nucleotide-dependent pathways. All these signaling molecules are closely arranged in each sperm flagellum, leading to efficient activation of motility.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Transport / physiology
  • Cations / metabolism
  • Dyneins / genetics*
  • Flagella / genetics*
  • Ion Channels / metabolism
  • Male
  • Signal Transduction*
  • Sperm Motility / genetics
  • Sperm Motility / physiology*
  • Spermatozoa / cytology*


  • Cations
  • Ion Channels
  • Dyneins