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Fernando J Peña and Zamira Gibb

In brief

The growing understanding of the mechanisms regulating redox homeostasis in the stallion spermatozoa, together with its interactions with energetic metabolism, is providing new clues applicable to the improvement of sperm conservation in horses. Based on this knowledge, new extenders, adapted to the biology of the stallion spermatozoa, are expected to be developed in the near future.


The preservation of semen either by refrigeration or cryopreservation is a principal component of most animal breeding industries. Although this procedure has been successful in many species, in others, substantial limitations persist. In the last decade, mechanistic studies have shed light on the molecular changes behind the damage that spermatozoa experience during preservation. Most of this damage is oxidative, and thus in this review, we aim to provide an updated overview of recent discoveries about how stallion spermatozoa maintain redox homeostasis, and how the current procedures of sperm preservation disrupt redox regulation and cause sperm damage which affects viability, functionality, fertility and potentially the health of the offspring. We are optimistic that this review will promote new ideas for further research to improve sperm preservation technologies, promoting translational research with a wide scope for applicability not only in horses but also in other animal species and humans.

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Juan M Gallardo Bolaños, Carolina M Balao da Silva, Patricia Martín Muñoz, Antolín Morillo Rodríguez, María Plaza Dávila, Heriberto Rodríguez-Martínez, Inés M Aparicio, José A Tapia, Cristina Ortega Ferrusola, and Fernando J Peña

AKT, also referred to as protein kinase B (PKB or RAC), plays a critical role in controlling cell survival and apoptosis. To gain insights into the mechanisms regulating sperm survival after ejaculation, the role of AKT was investigated in stallion spermatozoa using a specific inhibitor and a phosphoflow approach. Stallion spermatozoa were washed and incubated in Biggers–Whitten–Whittingham medium, supplemented with 1% polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) in the presence of 0 (vehicle), 10, 20 or 30 μM SH5, an AKT inhibitor. SH5 treatment reduced the percentage of sperm displaying AKT phosphorylation, with inhibition reaching a maximum after 1 h of incubation. This decrease in phosphorylation was attributable to either dephosphorylation or suppression of the active phosphorylation pathway. Stallion spermatozoa spontaneously dephosphorylated during in vitro incubation, resulting in a lack of a difference in AKT phosphorylation between the SH5-treated sperm and the control after 4 h of incubation. AKT inhibition decreased the proportion of motile spermatozoa (total and progressive) and the sperm velocity. Similarly, AKT inhibition reduced membrane integrity, leading to increased membrane permeability and reduced the mitochondrial membrane potential concomitantly with activation of caspases 3 and 7. However, the percentage of spermatozoa exhibiting oxidative stress, the production of mitochondrial superoxide radicals, DNA oxidation and DNA fragmentation were not affected by AKT inhibition. It is concluded that AKT maintains the membrane integrity of ejaculated stallion spermatozoa, presumably by inhibiting caspases 3 and 7, which prevents the progression of spermatozoa to an incomplete form of apoptosis.

Free Spanish abstract

A Spanish translation of this abstract is freely available at

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José Manuel Ortiz-Rodríguez, Francisco Eduardo Martín-Cano, Gemma Gaitskell-Phillips, Antonio Silva, José Antonio Tapia, Maria Cruz Gil, Eloy Redondo, Javier Masot, Cristina Ortega-Ferrusola, and Fernando J Peña

Spermatozoa are redox-regulated cells, and stallion spermatozoa, in particular, present an intense mitochondrial activity in which large amounts of reactive oxygen species (ROS) are produced. To maintain the redox potential under physiological conditions, sophisticated mechanisms ought to be present, particularly in the mitochondria. In the present study, we investigated the role of the SLC7A11 antiporter. This antiporter exchanges intracellular glutamate for extracellular cystine. In the spermatozoa, cystine is reduced to cysteine and used for GSH synthesis. The importance of the antiporter for mitochondrial functionality was studied using flow cytometry and UHPLC/MS/MS approaches. Intracellular GSH increased in the presence of cystine, but was reduced in the presence of Buthionine sulphoximine (BSO), a γ-glutamylcysteine synthetase inhibitor (P < 0.001). Inhibition of the SLC7A11 antiporter with sulfasalazine caused a dramatic drop in intracellular GSH (P < 0.001) and in the percentage of spermatozoa showing active mitochondria (P < 0.001). These findings suggest that proper functionality of this antiporter is required for the mitochondrial function of spermatozoa. We also describe that under some conditions, glutamate may be metabolized following non-conventional pathways, also contributing to sperm functionality. We provide evidences, that the stallion spermatozoa have important metabolic plasticity, and also of the relation between redox regulation and metabolic regulation. These findings may have important implications for the understanding of sperm biology and the development of new strategies for sperm conservation and treatment of male factor infertility.

Free access

Róisín A Griffin, Aleona Swegen, Mark Baker, Robert John Aitken, David A Skerrett-Byrne, Antonio Silva Rodriguez, Francisco E Martín-Cano, Brett Nixon, Fernando J Peña, Maryse Delehedde, Nicolas Sergeant, and Zamira Gibb

The horse breeding industry relies upon optimal stallion fertility. Conventional sperm assessments provide limited information regarding ejaculate quality and are not individually predictive of fertilizing potential. The aim of this study was to harness mass spectrometry to compare the proteomic profiles of high- and low-quality stallion spermatozoa, with the ultimate goal of identifying fertility biomarker candidates. Extended stallion semen (n = 12) was fractionated using Percoll density gradients to isolate low-quality and high-quality sperm populations. Motility and morphological assessments were carried out, and proteomic analyses was conducted using UHPLC-MS/MS. High-quality spermatozoa recorded higher total (95.2 ± 0.52% vs 70.6 ± 4.20%; P ≤ 0.001) and progressive motilities (43.4 ± 3.42% vs 27.3 ± 4.32%; P ≤ 0.05), and a higher proportion of morphologically normal cells (50.2 ± 4.34% vs 38.8 ± 2.72%; P ≤ 0.05). In total, 1069 proteins were quantified by UHPLC-MS/MS, of which 22 proteins were significantly more abundant in the high-quality sperm population (P ≤ 0.05). A-kinase anchor protein 4 (AKAP4) and Hexokinase 1 (HK1) were considered possible biomarker candidates and their differential expression was confirmed by immunoblot. Protein expression was significantly correlated with total (AKAP4 R 2 = 0.38, P ≤ 0.01; HK1 R 2 = 0.46, P ≤ 0.001) and progressive motilities (AKAP4 R 2 = 0.51, P ≤ 0.001; HK1 R 2 = 0.55, P ≤ 0.01), percentage rapid (AKAP4 R 2 = 0.29, P ≤ 0.05; HK1 R 2 = 0.58, P ≤ 0.001), straight-line velocity (HK1 R 2 = 0.50, P ≤ 0.01) and straightness (HK1 R 2 = 0.40, P ≤ 0.01). Furthermore, AKAP4 was highly susceptible to adduction by 4-hydroxynonenal (4HNE), which resulted in a global reduction in the phosphorylation profiles following capacitation. In conclusion, the proteomic profiles of high- and low-quality stallion spermatozoa differ substantially, and proteins such as AKAP4 and HK1 could serve as biomarkers of ejaculate quality.