, Volume 54, Issue 2, pp 111-130
Date: 25 May 2007

Parasperm: morphological and functional studies on nonfertile sperm

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Sperm polymorphism, a phenomenon in which more than one type of sperm is produced within a species, occurs widely in animals from invertebrates to vertebrates. Sperm in this phenomenon can be categorized into fertile sperm and nonfertile sperm on the basis of fertilization ability. Nonfertile sperm can be further classified into parasperm and aberrant deformed sperm. Parasperm are sperm produced through a constant developmental process along with normal fertile eusperm, and they are readily distinguished from deformed sperm, which are irregularly crippled by unpredictable errors at certain stages during spermatogenesis. Sperm identified as parasperm occur widely in invertebrates but are presently quite limited in vertebrates. This may be the result of the deficiency both of studies on parasperm and of clear criteria to identify parasperm in vertebrates. Some vertebrates show unique spermatogenesis, such as symplastic spermatid and semicystic spermatogenesis. Thus, parasperm must be identified by comparing cells in each cyst and in semen, because irregularly shaped cells in the seminal duct could be either parasperm or normal spermatids. Although parasperm are identified by clear criteria in vertebrates, only in cottoid fishes to date, it is possible for parasperm to be discovered in other vertebrates. Recently, roles related to sperm competition have been reported in several species (e.g., the marine cottoid fish Hemilepidotus gilberti), and, with some of them, parasperm production is influenced by an intraspecific factor such as a sex ratio or the density of a population. Sperm competition is one of the important candidates for influencing evolution of parasperm functions, but not all parasperm seem to have a relation to sperm competition. Parasperm function may relate to the ecological conditions of each species that produces parasperm. Studies on parasperm function will be advanced by an ecological approach concerning male fertilization success as well as cytological investigation for parasperm.

An erratum to this article is available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10228-007-0407-1.