The protamine 1-to-protamine 2 ratio (P1/P2) is altered in the sperm cells of some infertile patients. Also, evidence for increased protamine 2 precursors (pre-P2) in a few patients has been reported. But so far, there have been no studies measuring simultaneously these two variables in a large number of patients. METHODS: We measured the P1/P2 ratio and the presence of pre-P2 using, for the first time, an antibody specific to the precursor pre-P2, together with other sperm parameters in 224 infertile patients. Additionally, the DNA integrity was assessed by terminal transferase dUTP nick-end labelling (TUNEL) in a subset of the samples. RESULTS: Pre-P2 levels show a significant positive correlation with the P1/P2 ratio, with the presence of other proteins and, at low pre-P2 levels, with TUNEL-positive sperm. An inverse correlation with sperm count, normal morphology and motility was detected. CONCLUSIONS: The levels of pre-P2 may provide clues into the pathogenic mechanisms of infertility. The increased proportion of pre-P2 in some patients with increased P1/P2 ratio suggests an involvement of pre-P2 processing. The positive correlation between TUNEL-positive sperm and pre-P2 at low pre-P2/P2 ratios also suggests a link between deficient protamine processing and decreased DNA integrity.