The annulus is a ring-shaped structure located beneath the plasma membrane that connects the midpiece and the principal piece of mammalian sperm flagellum. It has been suggested that the annulus acts as a morphological organizer, guiding flagellum assembly during spermiogenesis, and as a diffusion barrier, confining proteins to distinct compartments of the flagellum in mature sperm. Previous studies on small cohorts of patients have attempted to correlate annulus defects with the occurrence of human asthenozoospermia. An absence of the annulus has been shown to be frequently associated with asthenozoospermia.
We tried to obtain a more precise estimate of the frequency of annulus defects, by screening a large cohort of 254 men presenting asthenozoospermia (mean progressive motility of 24 %) by the immunodetection of SLC26A8, a transmembrane protein that has been shown to be specifically localized to the annulus. By contrast to previous reports, our results indicate that annulus defects are associated with asthenozoospermia in only 1.2 % of cases.
We conclude that defects or an absence of the annulus are not frequently associated with asthenozoospermia. The use of annulus defects as a diagnostic endpoint in patients is therefore not appropriate.