Structure and function of the undulating membrane in spermatozoan propulsion in the toad Bufo Marinus

M. A. Swan, R. W. Linck, S. Ito, D. W. Fawcett

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22 Scopus citations


Accessory fibers in most sperm surround the axoneme so that their function in propulsion is difficult to assess. In the sperm ofthe toad Bufo marinus, an accessory fiber is displaced from the axoneme, being connected to it by the thin undulating membrane in such a way that the movement of axoneme and accessory fiber can be viewed independently. The axoneme is highly convoluted in whole mounts, and the axial fiber is straight. Cinemicrographic analysis shows that it is the longer, flexuous fiber, the presumed axoneme, that moves actively. The accessory fiber follows it passively with a lower amplitude of movement. The accessory fiber does not move independent of the axoneme, even after demembranation and reactivation of the sperm. On the basis of anatomical relations in the neck region, it appears that the accessory fibers of amphibians are analogous to the dense fibers of mammalian sperm. SDS polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis of demembranated toad sperm tails reveals two principal proteins in addition to the tubulins, the former probably arising from the accessory fibers and the matrix of the undulating membrane. The function ofdisplacing an accessory fiber into an undulating membrane may be to provide stiffness for the tail without incurring an energy deficit large enough to require a long middle piece. A long middle piece is not present in toad sperm, in contrast to those sperm that have accessory fibers around the axoneme. However, the toad sperm suffers a reduction in speed of about one-third, compared with the speed expected for a sperm without an undulating membrane.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)866-880
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Cell Biology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 1 1980
Externally publishedYes


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