DNA packaging and organization in mammalian spermatozoa: Comparison with somatic cells

W. S. Ward, D. S. Coffey

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

506 Scopus citations


Mammalian sperm DNA is the most tightly compacted eukaryotic DNA, being at least sixfold more highly condensed than the DNA in mitotic chromosomes. To achieve this high degree of packaging, sperm DNA interacts with protamines to form linear, side-by-side arrays of chromatin. This differs markedly from the bulkier DNA packaging of somatic cell nuclei and mitotic chromosomes, in which the DNA is coiled around histone octamers to form nucleosomes. The overall organization of mammalian sperm DNA, however, resembles that of somatic cells in that both the linear arrays of sperm chromatin and the 30-nm solenoid filaments of somatic cell chromatin are organized into loop domains attached at their bases to a nuclear matrix. In addition to the sperm nuclear matrix, sperm nuclei contain a unique structure termed the sperm nuclear annulus to which the entire complement of DNA appears to be anchored when the nuclear matrix is disrupted during decondensation. In somatic cells, proper function of DNA is dependent upon the structural organization of the DNA by the nuclear matrix, and the structural organization of sperm DNA is likely to be just as vital to the proper functioning of the spermatozoa.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)569-574
Number of pages6
JournalBiology of reproduction
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1991

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Reproductive Medicine
  • Cell Biology


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