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AM Petrunkina, J Friedrich, W Drommer, G Bicker, D Waberski and E Topfer-Petersen

On reaching the oviduct, spermatozoa are retained in the isthmic region of the oviduct until ovulation occurs. The essential steps of capacitation are co-ordinated in this region. In this study, a primary cell culture system of oviductal epithelial cells was established to investigate sperm binding to oviductal epithelium and modulation of sperm function during incubation under capacitating conditions in co-culture with oviductal epithelial cells. Epithelial cells were stripped from the oviducts of sows and cultivated for 5-7 days on Lab-Tek Chamber slides on Matrigel. The preparations on chamber slides and suspensions of control spermatozoa were incubated for 3 h in Tyrode's albumin lactate pyruvate (TALP) medium. At 3, 30, 60, 90 and 180 min the free-swimming spermatozoa were collected by washing, and membrane integrity, tyrosine phosphorylation patterns and [Ca(2+)](i) of bound, unbound and control spermatozoa were assessed with fluorescent probes (propidium iodide, Cy-3 and fluo-3-AM). The cells bound to oviductal epithelial cells showed reduced cytosolic Ca(2+) concentration, reduced and almost absent tyrosine phosphorylation of membrane proteins and higher viability at the time of the first sampling. Increases in Ca(2+) concentration and cell death occurred much more slowly during incubation in cells bound to oviductal epithelial cells compared with free-swimming spermatozoa, and no changes in tyrosine phosphorylation were observed. The preferential binding of viable, low-Ca(2+) cells with suppressed tyrosine phosphorylation and slower functional modulation of boar spermatozoa attached to oviductal epithelial cells might represent a mechanism for selecting functionally competent spermatozoa and prolonging their lifespan by delaying capacitation in the oviductal reservoir.

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AM Petrunkina, R Gehlhaar, W Drommer, D Waberski and E Topfer-Petersen

The sperm reservoir in the caudal isthmus of the oviduct of a number of species is created by binding of spermatozoa to oviductal epithelium. The sperm reservoir fulfills a number of functions such as control of sperm transport, maintenance of sperm viability and modulation of capacitation. The initial capacities of ejaculated and epididymal boar spermatozoa to bind to oviductal epithelium were investigated using a modified pig oviductal explant assay. The number of spermatozoa that bound to 0.01 mm(2) of explant surface was used as the parameter of binding capacity. Binding of spermatozoa to oviductal epithelial explants was dependent in a linear manner on the number of spermatozoa added (P < or = 0.05). No difference was found in initial sperm binding between isthmic and ampullar explants. There was no effect of the stage of the oestrous cycle or the reproductive status of the female donor. There was a significant effect (P < or = 0.05) of the individual boar on the binding index. The binding index correlated negatively with the percentage of spermatozoa with cytoplasmic droplets and the percentage of morphologically abnormal spermatozoa (P < or = 0.05). Epididymal spermatozoa showed significantly lower initial binding capability than did ejaculated spermatozoa from the same boars (P < or = 0.05); therefore, components of seminal plasma may play a role in the binding process. The individual differences revealed by this study and their relation to morphology and contact of spermatozoa with seminal fluid indicate a selective function of sperm-oviduct binding.