Direct measurements of microtubule sliding in the flagella of actively swimming, demembranated, spermatozoa have been made using submicron diameter gold beads as markers on the exposed outer doublet microtubules. With spermatozoa of the tunicate, Ciona, these measurements confirm values of sliding calculated indirectly by measuring angles relative to the axis of the sperm head. Both methods of measurement show a nonuniform amplitude of oscillatory sliding along the length of the flagellum, providing direct evidence that "oscillatory synchronous sliding" can be occurring in the flagellum, in addition to the metachronous sliding that is necessary to propagate a bending wave. Propagation of constant amplitude bends is not accomplished by propagation of a wave of oscillatory sliding of constant amplitude, and therefore appears to require a mechanism for monitoring and controlling the bend angle as bends propagate. With sea urchin spermatozoa, the direct measurements of sliding do not agree with the values calculated by measuring angles relative to the head axis. The oscillation in angular orientation of the sea urchin sperm head as it swims appears to be accommodated by flexure at the head-flagellum junction and does not correspond to oscillation in orientation of the basal end of the flagellum. Consequently, indirect calculations of sliding based on angles measured relative to the longitudinal axis of the sperm head can be seriously inaccurate in this species.

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