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R. L. Noble

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K. A. Kelso, S. Cerolini, B. K. Speake, L. G. Cavalchini and R. C. Noble

The aim of this study was to investigate the effects of supplementing the diet of the male chicken with α-linolenic acid (18:3n-3) on the phospholipid fatty acid composition, motility and fertilizing ability of chicken spermatozoa. The birds in the control group received a diet supplemented with soybean oil rich in linoleic acid (18:2n-6) whereas those in the test group were supplemented with linseed oil rich in α-linolenic acid. A number of age-related changes in the lipid parameters of the spermatozoa were observed in control birds. Between 24 and 72 weeks of age the amount of total lipid in the spermatozoa of control birds increased by approximately 2.4 times and the proportions of cholesterol and free fatty acid also increased significantly, whereas the proportions of phospholipid and triacylglycerol decreased. In addition, the proportion of phosphatidylcholine in the total phospholipid increased, whereas the proportion of phosphatidylserine decreased during the same period. The proportion of docosatetraenoic acid (22:4n-6) in the phospholipid decreased significantly between 24 and 72 weeks of age. The concentration of spermatozoa in the semen of control birds increased to a maximum at week 39 and had decreased significantly by week 72. Supplementation with α-linolenic acid had little or no effect on the proportion of docosahexaenoic acid (22:6n-3) in the phospholipid profile of the spermatozoa. However, supplementation with α-linolenic acid did produce a significant but small increase in the proportion of docosapentaenoic acid (22:5n-3) recorded at 39 and 54 weeks. Thus, this study shows that the fatty acid composition of the sperm phospholipid demonstrates a marked resistance to dietary manipulation. Supplementation with α-linolenic acid significantly enhanced semen fertility at week 39. The results suggest that the small increase in the proportion of n-3 fatty acids in the sperm phospholipids induced by enriching the diet with α-linolenic acid is associated with a significant improvement in semen quality at 39 weeks of age.