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Tamara Leahy and Bart M Gadella

Spermatozoa interact with their immediate environment and this contact remodels the sperm surface in preparation for fertilisation. These fundamental membrane changes will be critically covered in this review with special emphasis on the very specific surface destabilisation event, capacitation. This process involves very subtle and intricate modifications of the sperm membrane including removal of suppression (decapacitation) factors and changes in the lateral organisation of the proteins and lipids of the sperm surface. Processing of sperm for assisted reproduction (storage, sex-sorting, etc.) subjects spermatozoa to numerous stressors, and it is possible that this processing overrides such delicate processes resulting in sperm instability and cell damage. To improve sperm quality, novel mechanisms must be used to stabilise the sperm surface during handling. In this review, different types of membrane stress are considered, as well as novel surface manipulation methods to improve sperm stability.

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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.