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Adapted methods for scanning electron microscopy (SEM) in assessment of human sperm morphology

Petra Nussdorfer, Ines Cilenšek, Branko Zorn, Daniel Petrovič


Infertility is a widespread problem, and in some cases, the routine basic semen analysis is not sufficient to detect the cause of male infertility. The use of the scanning electron microscope (SEM) could provide a detailed insight into spermatozoa morphology, but it requires specific sample preparation techniques. The purpose of this study was to select, adjust, and optimize a method for the preparation of spermatozoa samples prior to SEM analysis, and to establish the protocol required for its use in clinical practice. We examined sperm samples of 50 men. The samples were fixed with modified iso-osmolar aldehyde solution followed by osmium post-fixation. In the first method, dehydration of the cells and subsequent critical point drying (CPD) were performed on a coverslip. In the second method, the samples were dehydrated in centrifuge tubes; hexamethyldisilazane (HMDS) was used as a drying agent instead of CPD, and the samples were air-dried. The third procedure was based on a membrane filter. The samples were dehydrated and dried with HMDS in a Gooch crucible, continuously, without centrifugation or redispersion of the sample. Our results showed that the fixation with modified iso-osmolar aldehyde solution followed by osmium post-fixation, and combined with dehydration and CPD on a coverslip, is the most convenient procedure for SEM sample preparation. In the case of small-size samples or low sperm concentration, dehydration and drying with HMDS on the membrane filter enabled the best reliability, repeatability, and comparability of the results. The presented procedures are suitable for routine use, and they can be applied to confirm as well as to correct a diagnosis.


Scanning electron microscope; SEM; preparation techniques; human sperm morphology; infertility; clinical practice; semen; CPD; critical point drying; HMDS; hexamethyldisilazane

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