Morphology of mammalian sperm membranes during differentiation, maturation, and capacitation

J Electron Microsc Tech. 1990 Dec;16(4):281-97. doi: 10.1002/jemt.1060160403.


The mammalian spermatozoon is a highly polarized cell whose surface membrane can be divided into five functionally, structurally, and biochemically distinct domains. These domains are formed during spermatogenesis, continue to be modified during passage through the epididymis, and are further refined in the female reproductive tract. The integrity of these domains appears to be necessary for the sperm to perform its function--fusion with the egg and subsequent fertilization. The domains can be identified morphologically by their surface contours and texture, the content, distribution, and organization of intramembranous particles after freeze-fracture, and by the density of surface and cytoplasmic electron-dense coatings in thin sections. By using a variety of labels that stain carbohydrates (lectins), lipids (filipin and polymyxin B), and monoclonal antibodies to specific membrane constituents, the biochemical composition of these contiguous membrane regions has also been partly elucidated. We review here what is known about the structure, composition, and behavior of each membrane domain in the mature sperm and include some information regarding domain formation during spermatogenesis. The sperm is an excellent model system to study the creation and maintenance of cell polarity, granule exocytosis, and fertilization. Hopefully this review will provide impetus for future studies aimed more directly at addressing the relationship of its morphology to its functions.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acrosome / ultrastructure
  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Cell Membrane / ultrastructure
  • Freeze Fracturing
  • Male
  • Mammals / physiology*
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Sperm Capacitation*
  • Sperm Head / ultrastructure
  • Sperm Maturation*
  • Sperm Tail / ultrastructure
  • Spermatozoa / cytology
  • Spermatozoa / ultrastructure*