Inhibition of sperm phosphodiesterase (PDE) has been shown to increase cAMP concentrations and stimulate motility and the acrosome reaction. While several PDE genes exist in mammals, little is known about the physiological role of PDE forms expressed in human spermatozoa. Using type-selective inhibitors, we identified two of the PDE forms expressed in human spermatozoa and studied their involvement in sperm function. Selective inhibitors of calcium-calmodulin-regulated PDE1 (8-methoxy-isobutyl-methylxanthine) and cAMP-specific PDE4 (RS-25344, Rolipram) were used to study PDE forms in human sperm extracts. 8-MeIBMX and Rolipram/RS-25344 inhibited sperm PDE activity by 35-40 and 25-30% respectively. Subcellular fractionation of the sperm homogenate suggests these pharmacologically distinct forms may be located in separate cellular regions. To evaluate the functional significance of different PDE forms, the effect of type-specific PDE inhibition on sperm motility and the acrosome reaction was examined. PDE4 inhibitors enhanced sperm motility over controls without affecting the acrosome reaction, while PDE1 inhibitors selectively stimulated the acrosome reaction. These data indicate at least two distinct PDE types exist in human spermatozoa. Our findings also support the hypothesis that PDE subtypes affect sperm function by regulating separate pools of cAMP and may ultimately offer novel treatments to infertile couples with abnormal semen parameters.