Skip to content


Helgoland Marine Research

Open Access

An ultrastructural study of spermatogenesis and sperm morula breakdown inArenicola marina (L.) (Annelida: Polychaeta)

  • A. A. Pacey1 and
  • M. G. Bentley1, 2
Helgoländer Meeresuntersuchungen46:BF02366054


Spermatogenesis in the lugwormArenicola marina, in common with other members of Arenicolidae, occurs in the coelomic fluid and results in the formation of discs of mature spermatozoa known as a morulae. Within a morula, individual spermatozoa are connected by a common mass of cytoplasm called the cytophore and therefore make up a syncitium. Immediately prior to spawning, and in response to an endocrine substance known as “Sperm Maturation Factor” (SMF), the structure of the sperm morulae breaks down and free spermatozoa are liberated. These are subsequently spawned from the body cavity. The investigation described here uses transmission electron microscopy to investigate the ultrastructural changes, which accompany spermatogenesis and the breakdown of sperm morulae in response to SMF in vitro. The study demonstrates that the cytophore appears to have a key role both during spermatogenesis and during sperm morula breakdown. The ultrastructure of sperm morulae and of mature spermatozoa is described. The structure of spermatozoa is shown to be primitive with a single flagellum which appears to be coiled at its distal end. The phagocytosis of free spermatozoa by coelomocytes is also described and it is suggested that these may play a role in the resorption of unspawned gametes in vivo.


MicroscopyElectron MicroscopyWaste WaterTransmission Electron MicroscopyWater Management