Stallions experience lower per cycle conception rates compared to other livestock species, largely because they are selected for breeding based on athletic prowess and not reproductive fitness. Mares are seasonal breeders, and pregnancies cannot be detected until 10-14 days post-cover via transrectal ultrasonography. This means the detection of stallion fertility fluctuations is delayed by at least two weeks, which within the short breeding season employed by the Thoroughbred horse breeding industry, can prove quite costly. For these reasons, there is increased demand for robust laboratory assays aimed at the accurate assessment of stallion fertility. This paper reviews our existing knowledge concerning the molecular mechanisms that underpin the functional competence of stallion spermatozoa, highlighting the relative importance of oxidative stress, DNA damage, sperm proteomics and RNA profile. We also consider the way in which fundamental improvements in our understanding of stallion sperm biology are informing the identification and development of possible biomarkers of fertility and thus avenues for the development of specific assays for fertility prediction.
Roisin Ann Griffin, Mark Baker, Robert John Aitken, Aleona Swegen and Zamira Gibb
Aleona Swegen, Benjamin J Curry, Zamira Gibb, Sarah R Lambourne, Nathan D Smith and R John Aitken
Stallion spermatozoa continue to present scientific and clinical challenges with regard to the biological mechanisms responsible for their survival and function. In particular, deeper understanding of sperm energy metabolism, defence against oxidative damage and cell–cell interactions should improve fertility assessment and the application of advanced reproductive technologies in the equine species. In this study, we used highly sensitive LC–MS/MS technology and sequence database analysis to identify and characterise the proteome of Percoll-isolated ejaculated equine spermatozoa, with the aim of furthering our understanding of this cell's complex biological machinery. We were able to identify 9883 peptides comprising 1030 proteins, which were subsequently attributed to 975 gene products. Gene ontology analysis for molecular and cellular processes revealed new information about the metabolism, antioxidant defences and receptors of stallion spermatozoa. Mitochondrial proteins and those involved in catabolic processes constituted dominant categories. Several enzymes specific to β-oxidation of fatty acids were identified, and further experiments were carried out to ascertain their functional significance. Inhibition of carnitine palmitoyl transferase 1, a rate-limiting enzyme of β-oxidation, reduced motility parameters, indicating that β-oxidation contributes to maintenance of motility in stallion spermatozoa.