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Therapeutic ultrasound as a potential male contraceptive: power, frequency and temperature required to deplete rat testes of meiotic cells and epididymides of sperm determined using a commercially available system

James K Tsuruta1*, Paul A Dayton3, Caterina M Gallippi3, Michael G O'Rand12, Michael A Streicker4, Ryan C Gessner3, Thomas S Gregory36, Erick JR Silva12, Katherine G Hamil12, Glenda J Moser4 and David C Sokal5

Author Affiliations

1 The Laboratories for Reproductive Biology, Department of Pediatrics, 220 Taylor Hall, CB7500, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27599, USA

2 Department of Cell & Developmental Biology, CB7090, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27599, USA

3 Department of Biomedical Engineering, 152 MacNider Hall, CB7575. School of Medicine, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27599, USA

4 Integrated Laboratory Systems, 601 Keystone Park Drive, Suite 100, Durham, North Carolina 27713, USA

5 FHI360, 2224 E. NC Highway 54, Durham, North Carolina 27713, USA

6 Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences, Center for Injury Biomechanics, 440 ICTAS Building, Stanger Street, Mail Code 0194, Blacksburg, Virginia 24061, USA

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Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology 2012, 10:7  doi:10.1186/1477-7827-10-7

Published: 30 January 2012



Studies published in the 1970s by Mostafa S. Fahim and colleagues showed that a short treatment with ultrasound caused the depletion of germ cells and infertility. The goal of the current study was to determine if a commercially available therapeutic ultrasound generator and transducer could be used as the basis for a male contraceptive.


Sprague-Dawley rats were anesthetized and their testes were treated with 1 MHz or 3 MHz ultrasound while varying power, duration and temperature of treatment.


We found that 3 MHz ultrasound delivered with 2.2 Watt per square cm power for fifteen minutes was necessary to deplete spermatocytes and spermatids from the testis and that this treatment significantly reduced epididymal sperm reserves. 3 MHz ultrasound treatment reduced total epididymal sperm count 10-fold lower than the wet-heat control and decreased motile sperm counts 1,000-fold lower than wet-heat alone. The current treatment regimen provided nominally more energy to the treatment chamber than Fahim's originally reported conditions of 1 MHz ultrasound delivered at 1 Watt per square cm for ten minutes. However, the true spatial average intensity, effective radiating area and power output of the transducers used by Fahim were not reported, making a direct comparison impossible. We found that germ cell depletion was most uniform and effective when we rotated the therapeutic transducer to mitigate non-uniformity of the beam field. The lowest sperm count was achieved when the coupling medium (3% saline) was held at 37 degrees C and two consecutive 15-minute treatments of 3 MHz ultrasound at 2.2 Watt per square cm were separated by 2 days.


The non-invasive nature of ultrasound and its efficacy in reducing sperm count make therapeutic ultrasound a promising candidate for a male contraceptive. However, further studies must be conducted to confirm its efficacy in providing a contraceptive effect, to test the result of repeated use, to verify that the contraceptive effect is reversible and to demonstrate that there are no detrimental, long-term effects from using ultrasound as a method of male contraception.

Male contraception; therapeutic ultrasound; testis; epididymis; wet-heat