Mitochondrial membrane potential and DNA stainability in human sperm cells: A flow cytometry analysis with implications for male infertility

Leonarda Troiano, Antonio R M Granata, Andrea Cossarizza, Galina Kalashnikova, Rita Bianchi, Gabriella Pini, Franco Tropea, Cesare Carani, Claudio Franceschi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Sperm cells from control donors of proven fertility and men from barren couples were studied by conventional procedures, i.e., light microscopy as well as flow cytometry. Light microscopy analysis of semen included the measurement of spermatozoa concentration, morphology, and motility. All the men from barren couples were asthenozoospermic at the conventional analysis of semen samples. Flow cytometry was applied to study two important parameters of sperm cells: mitochondrial membrane potential (MMP) assessed by the cationic dye JC-1 and DNA stainability with propidium iodide (PI). JC-1 staining was more reliable than the classical procedure used for this purpose, i.e., rhodamine 123 (Rh123) staining, and allowed us to show a positive correlation between MMP and spermatozoa motility. Regarding DNA analysis, a higher relative percentage of immature spermatozoa, showing a high accessibility of DNA to the intercalating PI fluorochrome, was found in men from barren couples compared to donors of proven fertility. The relative percentage of immature spermatozoa was significantly higher in semen from oligoasthenozoospermic subjects. Moreover, a positive correlation was found between immature spermatozoa, as evaluated by PI staining, and cells with depolarized mitochondria, as evaluated by JC-1 staining, suggesting that spermatozoa defective for nuclear maturity could be functionally defective cells. No correlation between immature spermatozoa determined by FCM and immature spermatozoa determined by light microscopy was found, suggesting that these two techniques assess sperm cell maturity at different levels.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)384-393
Number of pages10
JournalExperimental Cell Research
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 15 1998

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cell Biology


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