Journal of Fluid Mechanics

Papers

Hydrodynamic propulsion of human sperm

ERIC A. GILLIESa1, RICHARD M. CANNONa1, RICHARD B. GREENa1 and ALLAN A. PACEYa2 c1

a1 Department of Aerospace Engineering, University of Glasgow, Glasgow G12 8QQ, UK

a2 Academic Unit of Reproductive and Developmental Medicine, School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, University of Sheffield, Sheffield S10 2SF, UK

Abstract

The detailed fluid mechanics of sperm propulsion are fundamental to our understanding of reproduction. In this paper, we aim to model a human sperm swimming in a microscope slide chamber. We model the sperm itself by a distribution of regularized stokeslets over an ellipsoidal sperm head and along an infinitesimally thin flagellum. The slide chamber walls are modelled as parallel plates, also discretized by a distribution of regularized stokeslets. The sperm flagellar motion, used in our model, is obtained by digital microscopy of human sperm swimming in slide chambers. We compare the results of our simulation with previous numerical studies of flagellar propulsion, and compare our computations of sperm kinematics with those of the actual sperm measured by digital microscopy. We find that there is an excellent quantitative match of transverse and angular velocities between our simulations and experimental measurements of sperm. We also find a good qualitative match of longitudinal velocities and computed tracks with those measured in our experiment. Our computations of average sperm power consumption fall within the range obtained by other authors. We use the hydrodynamic model, and a prototype flagellar motion derived from experiment, as a predictive tool, and investigate how sperm kinematics are affected by changes to head morphology, as human sperm have large variability in head size and shape. Results are shown which indicate the increase in predicted straight-line velocity of the sperm as the head width is reduced and the increase in lateral movement as the head length is reduced. Predicted power consumption, however, shows a minimum close to the normal head aspect ratio.

(Received February 19 2008)

(Revised December 15 2008)

Correspondence:

c1 Email address for correspondence: e.gillies@aero.gla.ac.uk

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