In the bovine, as in many mammalian species, sperm are temporarily stored in the oviduct before fertilization by binding to the oviduct epithelial cell apical plasma membranes. As the oviduct is able to maintain motility and viability of sperm and modulate capacitation, we propose that proteins present on the apical plasma membrane of oviduct epithelial cells contribute to these effects. To verify this hypothesis, the motility of frozen-thawed sperm was determined after incubation for 6 h with purified apical plasma membranes from fresh or cultured oviduct epithelial cells or from bovine mammary gland cells as a control. Analysis of intracellular calcium levels was performed by flow cytometry on sperm incubated with fresh membranes using Indo-1 to assess the membrane effect on intracellular calcium concentration. The coculture of sperm with fresh and cultured apical membranes maintained initial motility for 6 h (65% and 84%, respectively). This effect was significantly different from control sperm incubated without oviduct epithelial cell apical membranes (23%), with mammary gland cell apical membranes (23%), or with boiled epithelial cell apical membranes (21%). Apical membranes from oviduct epithelial cells diminished the percentage of sperm that reached a lethal calcium concentration over a 4-h period (18.7%) compared with the control (53.8%) and maintained lower intracellular calcium levels in viable sperm. These results show that the apical plasma membrane of bovine oviduct epithelial cells contains anchored proteinic factors that contribute to maintaining motility and viability and possibly to modulating capacitation of bovine sperm.
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