Sperm-oviduct binding is an essential step in the capacitation process preparing the sperm for fertilization in several mammalian species. In many species, capacitation can be induced in vitro by exposing spermatozoa to bicarbonate, Ca2 , and albumin; however, these conditions are insufficient in the horse. We hypothesized that binding to the oviduct epithelium is an essential requirement for the induction of capacitation in stallion spermatozoa. Sperm-oviduct binding was established by coincubating equine oviduct explants for 2 h with stallion spermatozoa (2 × 106 spermatozoa/ml), during which it transpired that the highest density (per mm2) of oviduct-bound spermatozoa was achieved under noncapacitating conditions. In subsequent experiments, sperm-oviduct incubations were performed for 6 h under noncapacitating versus capacitating conditions. The oviduct-bound spermatozoa showed a time-dependent protein tyrosine phosphorylation response, which was not observed in unbound spermatozoa or spermatozoa incubated in oviduct explant conditioned medium. Both oviduct-bound and unbound sperm remained motile with intact plasma membrane and acrosome. Since protein tyrosine phosphorylation can be induced in equine spermatozoa by media with high pH, the intracellular pH (pHi) of oviduct explant cells and bound spermatozoa was monitored fluorometrically after staining with BCECF-AM dye. The epithelial secretory cells contained large, alkaline vesicles. Moreover, oviduct-bound spermatozoa showed a gradual increase in pHi, presumably due to an alkaline local microenvironment created by the secretory epithelial cells, given that unbound spermatozoa did not show pHi changes. Thus, sperm-oviduct interaction appears to facilitate equine sperm capacitation by creating an alkaline local environment that triggers intracellular protein tyrosine phosphorylation in bound sperm.
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