Bull sperm that are extracted with 0.1% Triton X-100 and restored to motility with Mg2+-ATP lose coordination and stop swimming in the presence of 0.5 mM NiSO4. Although spontaneous coordination of flagellar waves is lost after exposure to Ni2+, other functions of the flagellum remain intact. The capacity for wave propagation along the flagellum is maintained together with the capacity for microtubular sliding. Wave motility can be restored to Ni2+-inhibited sperm by inducing a permanent bend onto the flagellum by micromanipulation. In the absence of such intervention, the loss of wave coordination is complete and irreversible. Ni2+-inhibited demembranated cells that are kept active by maintaining a bend in the flagellum exhibit a normal beat frequency. Both intact and demembranated sperm can retain spontaneous wave production at considerably slower rates of motion than Ni2+-inhibited cells. Short segments from the distal tip of the flagellum contain only the 9 + 2 microtubular axoneme. These short segments are able to propagate imposed bends even in the presence of Ni2+. In addition to wave propagation Ni2+-treated sperm can be shown to exhibit a normal sliding tubule phenomenon by direct assay. Although Ni2+-treated cells have a functional sliding tubule mechanism, and consequently the axoneme can propagate bends, it appears that these retained functions are not sufficient to cause spontaneous bend initiation. Our findings show that bend initiation is inhibited by Ni2+, and therefore is an independent process separate from the sliding tubule mechanism responsible for wave propagation.

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