The prediction of the fertilizing ability of a sire or a given insemination dose is a primary aim in the field of artificial insemination. Centrifugal countercurrent distribution analysis (CCCD) was used to determine the relationship between some sperm parameters and the in vivo fertility rate obtained with the same sample after cervical artificial insemination. A total of 522 ewes from 26 different farms was inseminated with 53 ejaculates obtained from 25 mature Rasa aragonesa rams. Semen was diluted to 1.6 x 10(9) cells ml-1 and doses of 0.25 ml were prepared and kept at 15 degrees C until used for insemination. The same ejaculates were used for analysis of standard semen parameters and CCCD analysis. Sperm motility, concentration and viability were determined before and after CCCD. Post-CCCD parameters were derived from the analysis of the profile obtained after CCCD. The recovered viability showed the highest correlation with fertility, especially in the central chambers (V2), r = 0.415, P < 0.005). The ejaculate heterogeneity also showed a positive correlation with field fertility (r = 0.23), with a tendency towards significance (P < 0.1). The mean fertility value of all ejaculates used in this study was 46.75%, ranging from 12.5% to 75.0%. Ejaculates were classified into two categories according to their fertility: higher and lower than the mean value. Only the viability recovered in the central chambers (V2) was a parameter with a predictive capacity to discriminate between the two groups (P < 0.05). A predictive equation for field fertility with a correlation coefficient r = 0.488 and a very high level of significance (P < 0.005) was deduced by multiple analysis: PF = 6.02 + 0.069V2 + 0.315H (where PF is predictive fertility, V2 is the recovered viability in the CCCD profile central chambers and H is heterogeneity).
This study was based on the assumption that steroid hormones present in the female genital tract may have a rapid effect on ram spermatozoa by interaction with specific surface receptors. We demonstrate the presence of progesterone (PR) and estrogen (ER) receptors in ram spermatozoa, their localization changes during in vitro capacitation and the actions of progesterone (P4) and 17β-estradiol (E2) on ram sperm functionality. Immunolocalization assays revealed the presence of PR mainly at the equatorial region of ram spermatozoa. Western blot analyses showed three bands in ram sperm protein extracts of 40–45 kDa, compatible with those reported for PR in the human sperm membrane, and both classical estrogen receptors (66 kDa, ERα and 55 kDa, ERβ). ERα was located in the postacrosomal region of all the spermatozoa and ERβ on the apical region of 63.7% of the cells. The presence of ERβ was correlated with the percentage of non-capacitated spermatozoa evaluated by chlortetracycline staining (R = 0.848, P < 0.001). This significantly decreased after in vitro capacitation and nearly disappeared when acrosome reaction was induced. The addition of P4 and E2 before in vitro capacitation resulted in a higher (P < 0.001) acrosome-reacted sperm rate compared with the control (13.0%), noticeably greater after 3 h and when added to a high-cAMP medium (37.3% and 47.0% with E2 and P4, respectively). In conclusion, the results of this study demonstrate for the first time that ovine spermatozoa have progesterone and estrogen receptors and that both steroid hormones are related with the induction of the acrosome reaction.