Sperm migration in the genital tract - in silico experiments identify key factors for reproductive success


Diemer J., Hahn J., Goldenbogen B., Müller K., Klipp E

PLoS Computational Biology, 2021, (under review, doi: https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.03.05.977967)


Sperm migration in the female genital tract controls sperm selection and, therefore, reproductive success as male gametes are conditioned for fertilization while their number is dramatically reduced. Mechanisms underlying sperm migration are mostly unknown, since in vivo investigations are mostly unfeasible for ethical or practical reasons. By presenting a spatio-temporal model of the mammalian female genital tract combined with agent-based description of sperm motion and interaction as well as parameterizing it with bovine data, we offer an alternative possibility for studying sperm migration in silico. The model incorporates genital tract geometry as well as biophysical principles of sperm motion observed in vitro such as positive rheotaxis and thigmotaxis. This model for sperm migration from vagina to oviducts was successfully tested against in vivo data from literature. We found that physical sperm characteristics such as velocity and directional stability as well as sperm-fluid interactions and wall alignment are critical for success, i.e. sperms reaching the oviducts. Therefore, we propose that these identified sperm parameters should be considered in detail for conditioning sperm in artificial selection procedures since the natural processes are normally bypassed in reproductive in vitro technologies. The tremendous impact of mucus flow to support sperm accumulation in the oviduct highlights the importance of a species-specific optimum time window for artificial insemination regarding ovulation. Predictions from our extendable in silico experimental system will improve assisted reproduction in humans, endangered species, and livestock.