The removal of morphologically abnormal sperm forms by phagocytes: a positive role for seminal leukocytes?

M. J. Tomlinson, A. White, C. L. R. Barratt, A. E. Bolton, I. D. Cooke

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155 Citations (Scopus)


A preliminary investigation was undertaken further to determine the function of the leukocytic cells found in semen. We performed semen analysis and quantified leukocyte subsets using immunocytochemical staining techniques in ejaculates of 351 patients. Leukocyte profiles were examined in relation to sperm morphological data for evidence of a sperm removal/selection process. Three types of seminal phagocytic cell were found to contain spermatozoa: small polymorphonuclear leukocytes (approximately 10-12 microns), monocytes of similar size and much larger (30-40 microns) macrophages capable of engulfing multiple sperm heads. The total leukocyte count (P less than 0.01), the numbers of phagocytic cells i.e. polymorphonuclear leukocytes (P less than 0.05), monocyte/macrophages (P less than 0.01) and HLA-DR positive cells (P less than 0.01), were significantly higher in those samples with greater than 50% ideal sperm forms. Significantly fewer of these same cell types were observed in samples with greater than 50% head defects. There was no difference in the number of tail or midpiece defects between leukocytospermic (greater than 10(6)/ml) and non-leukocytospermic semen samples. Oligozoospermic samples contained significantly fewer leukocytes (P less than 0.005), although above a concentration of 5 x 10(6)/ml, the sperm number was not correlated with leukocyte number. These data, along with repeated observation of spermatozoa or sperm fragments within phagocytic cells, support the hypothesis that leukocytes have a role in the removal of abnormal spermatozoa from the ejaculate.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)517-522
Number of pages6
JournalHuman Reproduction
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 1992


  • Alkaline Phosphatase/biosynthesis
  • Antigens, CD/analysis
  • HLA-DR Antigens/analysis
  • Humans
  • Immunophenotyping
  • Leukocyte Count
  • Leukocytes/immunology
  • Macrophages/enzymology
  • Male
  • Monocytes/enzymology
  • Neutrophils/enzymology
  • Phagocytosis/physiology
  • Semen/cytology
  • Spermatozoa/pathology


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