Microfluidics and numerical simulation as methods for standardization of zebrafish sperm cell activation

Thomas Scherr, Gerald L. Knapp, Amy Guitreau, Daniel Sang Won Park, Terrence Tiersch, Krishnaswamy Nandakumar, W. Todd Monroe*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Sperm cell activation plays a critical role in a range of biological and engineering processes, from fertilization to cryopreservation protocol evaluation. Across a range of species, ionic and osmotic effects have been discovered that lead to activation. Sperm cells of zebrafish (Danio rerio) initiate motility in a hypoosmotic environment. In this study, we employ a microfluidic mixer for the purpose of rapidly diluting the extracellular medium to initiate the onset of cell motility. The use of a microchannel offers a rapid and reproducible mixing profile throughout the device. This greatly reduces variability from trial to trial relative to the current methods of analysis. Coupling these experiments with numerical simulations, we were able to investigate the dynamics of intracellular osmolality as each cell moves along its path through the micromixer. Our results suggest that intracellular osmolality, and hence intracellular ion concentration, only slightly decreases, contrary to the common thought that larger changes in these parameters are required for activation. Utilizing this framework, microfluidics for controlled extracellular environments and associated numerical modeling, has practical applicability in standardizing high-throughput aquatic sperm activation, and more fundamentally, investigations of the intracellular environment leading to motility.

Original languageEnglish
Article number65
JournalBiomedical Microdevices
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2 Jun 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Microfluidic
  • Numerical modeling
  • Sperm analysis
  • Transport modeling
  • Zebrafish sperm cell activation


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