The application of scanning near field optical imaging to the study of human sperm morphology

Laura Andolfi, Elisa Trevisan, Barbara Troian, Stefano Prato, Rita Boscolo, Elena Giolo, Stefania Luppi, Monica Martinelli, Giuseppe Ricci, Marina Zweyer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: The morphology of spermatozoa is a fundamental aspect to consider in fertilization, sperm pathology, assisted reproduction and contraception. Head, neck, midpiece, principal and terminal part of flagellum are the main sperm components to investigate for identifying morphological features and related anomalies. Recently, scanning near-field optical microscopy (SNOM), which belongs to the wide family of nanoscopic techniques, has opened up new routes for the investigation of biological systems. SNOM is the only technique able to provide simultaneously highly resolved topography and optical images with a resolution beyond the diffraction limit, typical of conventional optical microscopy. This offers the advantage to obtain complementary information about cell surface and cytoplasmatic structures. Results: In this work human spermatozoa both healthy and with morphological anomalies are analyzed by SNOM, to demonstrate the potentiality of such approach in the visualization of sperm morphological details. The combination of SNOM topography with optical (reflection and transmission) images enables to examine typical topographic features of spermatozoa together with underlying cytoplasmic structures. Indeed the head shape and inner components as acrosome and nucleus, and the organization of mitochondria in the midpiece region are observed. Analogously for principal tract of the tail, the ridges and the columns are detected in the SNOM topography, while their internal arrangement can be observed in the corresponding SNOM optical transmission images, without requiring specific staining procedures or invasive protocols. Conclusions: Such findings demonstrate that SNOM represents a versatile and powerful tool to describe topographical and inner structural details of spermatozoa simultaneously. This analysis could be helpful for better characterizing several morphological anomalies, often related to sperm infertility, which cannot be examined by conventional techniques all together.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2
JournalJournal of Nanobiotechnology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 16 2015


  • Morphology
  • Scanning near-field optical microscopy
  • Spermatozoa

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Medicine
  • Bioengineering
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology
  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Pharmaceutical Science


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