Raman spectroscopy of DNA packaging in individual human sperm cells distinguishes normal from abnormal cells

Thomas R Huser, Christine A. Orme, Christopher W. Hollars, Michele H. Corzett, Rod Balhorn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

88 Scopus citations


Healthy human males produce sperm cells of which about 25-40% have abnormal head shapes. Increases in the percentage of sperm exhibiting aberrant sperm head morphologies have been correlated with male infertility, and biochemical studies of pooled sperm have suggested that sperm with abnormal shape may contain DNA that has not been properly repackaged by protamine during spermatid development. We have used micro-Raman spectroscopy to obtain Raman spectra from individual human sperm cells and examined how differences in the Raman spectra of sperm chromatin correlate with cell shape. We show that Raman spectra of individual sperm cells contain vibrational marker modes that can be used to assess the efficiency of DNA-packaging for each cell. Raman spectra obtained from sperm cells with normal shape provide evidence that DNA in these sperm is very efficiently packaged. We find, however, that the relative protein content per cell and DNA packaging efficiencies are distributed over a relatively wide range for sperm cells with both normal and abnormal shape. These findings indicate that single cell Raman spectroscopy should be a valuable tool in assessing the quality of sperm cells for in-vitro fertilization.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)322-332
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Biophotonics
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2009


  • Cell shape abnormalities
  • DNA packaging
  • Human sperm cells
  • Raman spectroscopy
  • Sperm chromatin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Materials Science(all)
  • Engineering(all)
  • Physics and Astronomy(all)
  • Chemistry(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)


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