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Michael Garratt, Roslyn Bathgate, Simon P de Graaf and Robert C Brooks

Oxidative stress, overproduction of reactive oxygen species (ROS) in relation to defence mechanisms, is considered to be a major cause of male infertility. For protection against the deleterious effects of ROS, animals have a variety of enzymatic antioxidants that reduce these molecules to less reactive forms. The physiological role of these antioxidants in vivo has been explored extensively through genetic inhibition of gene expression; surprisingly, many of these animals remain fertile in spite of increased oxidative stress. Copper-zinc superoxide dismutase-deficient (Sod1 −/−) male mice are one such example for which in vivo fertility has been repeatedly reported as normal, although examination of fertility has consisted of simply pairing animals of the same strain and checking for litters. This is a fairly low criterion by which to assess fertility. Herein, we show that Sod1-deficient males have zero fertilisation success in sperm competition trials that pit them against wild-type males of an otherwise identical genetic background and are almost completely infertile when mated singly with females of a different genotype. We also show that various aspects of sperm motility and function are impaired in Sod1-deficient mice. Testing the breeding capabilities of mice under more ecologically relevant conditions and with females of different genotypes may help reveal additional physiological causes of infertility.

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Naomi C Bernecic, Bart M Gadella, Simon P de Graaf and Tamara Leahy

Compared to other mammalian species, ram spermatozoa are difficult to capacitate in vitro. Dibutyryl cAMP (db-cAMP) and the phosphodiesterase (PDE) inhibitors, caffeine and theophylline (cAMP up-regulators), must be added to traditional capacitation media (containing bicarbonate, calcium and BSA) to elicit a capacitation response. In this exploratory study, we assessed whether bicarbonate was still required for ram spermatozoa if cAMP is up-regulated by the addition of db-cAMP and PDE inhibitors and what role BSA plays in cholesterol efflux under these conditions. In this study, the validated BODIPY-cholesterol assay was used for the first time in ram spermatozoa to quantify cholesterol efflux by tracking the loss of BODIPY-cholesterol from the sperm plasma membrane using flow cytometry. The results show that under cAMP up-regulated conditions, an increase in membrane fluidity and tyrosine phosphorylation of sperm proteins remain as bicarbonate-dependent processes. In fact, the supplementation of bicarbonate under these conditions was necessary to further enhance cAMP production in ram spermatozoa, which correlated with the presence of these capacitation-related processes. When BSA was supplemented with cAMP up-regulators (as well as bicarbonate), there was a loss of approximately 20–23% of BODIPY-cholesterol (79.5 ± 30.5% to 76.9 ± 12.3% remaining from 10 min), indicating that BSA is essential for mediating cholesterol efflux in ram spermatozoa as measured by the BODIPY-cholesterol assay. The current study identifies the functional relationship between bicarbonate, BSA and cAMP up-regulators that is required to support capacitation-related processes in ram spermatozoa, specifically cholesterol efflux.