Summary. The epididymides of adult male hamsters were surgically ligated at the junction of the distal corpus and proximal cauda regions. After 3 days, spermatozoa recovered from the distal corpus displayed greater progressive motility and head to head agglutination in capacitating medium than did those from intact controls, but had low fertilizing ability (3% fertilization rate) in vitro or in vivo. When these spermatozoa were incubated for 6 h with epithelial cells from the proximal cauda epididymidis, previously cultured for 3 days, they maintained motility and exhibited a significant increase in fertilizing ability (30% and 29% in vitro and in vivo respectively). The fertilizing ability of distal corpus spermatozoa incubated with 3-day-old cultures without androgens, or 8–12-day-old epithelial cells with fibroblast overgrowth, or without epithelial cells, remained low (5%). Increase in sperm fertilizing ability was associated with increased sperm binding to the zona pellucida in vitro.
These results demonstrate that, under suitable culture conditions, the final stages in the development of hamster sperm fertilizing ability can be achieved in vitro. Factors secreted by cultured epithelium from the proximal cauda epididymidis are implicated in this maturation process.