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 2 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.
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Róisín A Griffin, Mark Baker, Robert John Aitken, Aleona Swegen, and Zamira Gibb
Samantha A M Young, Haruhiko Miyata, Yuhkoh Satouh, Masanaga Muto, Martin R Larsen, R John Aitken, Mark A Baker, and Masahito Ikawa
IZUMO1 is a protein found in the head of spermatozoa that has been identified as essential for sperm–egg fusion. Its binding partner in the egg has been discovered (JUNO); however, the roles of several domains within IZUMO1 remain unexplored. One such domain is the C-terminus, which undergoes major phosphorylation changes in the cytoplasmic portion of the protein during rat epididymal transit. However, the cytoplasmic tail of IZUMO1 in many species is highly variable, ranging from 55 to one amino acid. Therefore, to understand the role of the cytoplasmic tail of IZUMO1 in mouse, we utilised the gene manipulation system of CRISPR/Cas9 to generate a point mutation resulting in a premature stop codon, producing mice with truncated IZUMO1. Mice without the cytoplasmic tail of IZUMO1 showed normal fertility but decreased the amount of protein, indicating that whilst this region is important for the expression level of IZUMO1, it is dispensable for fertilisation in the mouse.
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.