Previous attempts to maintain human spermatozoa without freezing were based on short-term storage in component-rich medium and led to fast decline in motility and increased incidence of chromosome breaks. Here we report a new method in which sperm are maintained without freezing in an electrolyte-free medium (EFM) composed of glucose and bovine serum albumin. Human sperm were stored in EFM or human tubal fluid medium (HTFM) or were cryopreserved, and their motility, viability, and DNA integrity were examined at different intervals. Cryopreservation led to significant decline in sperm motility and viability and induced DNA fragmentation. Sperm stored in EFM maintained motility and viability for up to 4 and 7 wk, respectively, much longer than sperm stored in HTFM (<2 and <4 wk, respectively). DNA integrity, assessed with comet assay, was also maintained significantly better in EFM than in HTFM. One-week storage in EFM yielded motility and viability similar to that of cryopreserved sperm, but DNA integrity was significantly higher, resembling that of fresh sperm. After several weeks of storage in EFM, sperm were able to activate oocytes, undergo chromatin remodeling, and form normal zygotic chromosomes after intracytoplasmic sperm injection. This study demonstrated that human spermatozoa can be stored in EFM without freezing for several weeks while maintaining motility, viability, and chromatin integrity and that 1-wk storage in EFM offers better protection of sperm DNA integrity than cryopreservation. Sperm storage in EFM may become a viable option for the physicians working in assisted reproduction technology clinics, which would avoid cryodamage.
Short-term (1 week) storage without freezing of sperm in electrolyte-free medium maintains chromatin integrity better than conventional cryopreservation.