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  • Author: Alexander C O Evans x
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Lorraine Richardson, James P Hanrahan, Tharmala Tharmalingam, Stephen Carrington, Pat Lonergan, Alexander C O Evans and S. Fair

The aim of this study was to investigate the properties and to functionally characterise the cervical mucus that modulates sperm transport through the cervix by using ewe breeds with a divergent pregnancy rate (Belclare and Suffolk; high and low, respectively) following cervical insemination using frozen-thawed semen. Sperm number, as well as sialic acid and fucose content in both the channels and in the lumen of different regions of the cervix were quantified in inseminated Belclare and Suffolk ewes. Expression of glycosyltransferase and MUC genes, glycosidase activity and sialic acid speciation in follicular phase cervical tissue and mucus were assessed. More spermatozoa were found in the cervical channels in the region closest to the cervical os in Belclare than Suffolk ewes (P<0.05) and Suffolk ewes had a higher sialic acid content in the cervical channels than Belclare ewes (P<0.05) in all regions of cervix. Suffolk ewes had significantly higher expression of FUT1, ST6GAL1 and MUC5AC than Belclare ewes. There was no difference between the breeds in glycosidase activity (P>0.05). Levels of Neu5Ac were higher in Belclare than Suffolk ewes (P<0.05) and levels of Neu5Gc was higher in Suffolk than Belclare ewes (P<0.05). Competitive sperm penetration assays demonstrated that frozen-thawed sperm progression increased when cervical mucus was incubated with sialyllactose prior to a sperm penetration test (P<0.05). These results suggest that the difference between Belclare and Suffolk ewes in sperm transport with frozen-thawed semen is due to the higher concentration of sialic acid within channels, which binds to spermatozoa and reduces their ability to traverse the cervix.

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Theerawat Swangchan-Uthai, Siobhan W Walsh, Sarah L H Alexander, Zhangrui Cheng, Mark A Crowe, Alexander C O Evans and D Claire Wathes

The oviduct provides the environment to support gamete maturation, fertilisation and early embryo development. As there is a high incidence of early embryonic death in lactating dairy cows, this study compared expression of IGF family members in the oviduct between lactating Holstein-Friesian dairy cows (n=16, 81±2.4 days in milk) and nulliparous heifers (n=16, age 1.6±0.07 years) at three stages of the oestrous cycle: A) newly selected dominant follicle in the luteal phase, B) follicular phase before the LH surge and C) pre-ovulatory phase after the LH surge. Expression of IGF1, IGF2, IGF binding protein 2 (IGFBP2), IGFBP3 and IGFBP6 mRNA was determined in the ampulla of the oviduct. Oviduct side (ipsilateral or contralateral) with respect to the dominant follicle did not affect gene expression. Expression of IGF1 and all three IGFBPs increased significantly between the luteal and the pre-ovulatory phases, with no further significant alteration post-LH surge. Concentrations of circulating IGF1 were higher in heifers than in cows, as was the mRNA expression of IGF1, IGFBP3 and IGFBP6. The pre-LH surge rise in IGFBP2 mRNA was only observed in heifers. IGF2 expression was not influenced by either age or stage of cycle. These three IGFBPs are generally considered to inhibit IGF action. These results indicate tight regulation of IGF bioavailability in the oviductal environment around oestrus, with pronounced differences between cows and heifers, which are likely to influence early embryonic development. Further studies are required to assess the implications for embryo survival.