Research ArticleBIOPHYSICS

Human sperm uses asymmetric and anisotropic flagellar controls to regulate swimming symmetry and cell steering

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Science Advances  31 Jul 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 31, eaba5168
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aba5168

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Flagellar beating drives sperm through the female reproductive tract and is vital for reproduction. Flagellar waves are generated by thousands of asymmetric molecular components; yet, paradoxically, forward swimming arises via symmetric side-to-side flagellar movement. This led to the preponderance of symmetric flagellar control hypotheses. However, molecular asymmetries must still dictate the flagellum and be manifested in the beat. Here, we reconcile molecular and microscopic observations, reconnecting structure to function, by showing that human sperm uses asymmetric and anisotropic controls to swim. High-speed three-dimensional (3D) microscopy revealed two coactive transversal controls: An asymmetric traveling wave creates a one-sided stroke, and a pulsating standing wave rotates the sperm to move equally on all sides. Symmetry is thus achieved through asymmetry, creating the optical illusion of bilateral symmetry in 2D microscopy. This shows that the sperm flagellum is asymmetrically controlled and anisotropically regularized by fast-signal transduction. This enables the sperm to swim forward.

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