It is generally accepted that spermatozoa become functionally mature during epididymal transit. The objective of this study was to determine whether the cellular location of equine PH-20 is modified during epididymal transit and, if so, the mechanism for such modification. Sperm were isolated from caput and cauda epididymal regions from stallions undergoing castration (n = 7) and used as whole sperm cell or subjected to nitrogen cavitation for isolation of plasma membrane proteins. Both caput and cauda sperm and sperm protein extracts were subjected to N-deglycosylation, O-deglycosylation, or trypsinization. The SDS-PAGE and Western blot analysis using a polyclonal anti-equine PH-20 IgG were performed in sperm extracts, and indirect immunofluorescence on whole sperm was also performed to determine the cellular distribution of plasma membrane PH-20 following similar treatments (deglycosylation or trypsinization). Hyaluronan substrate gel electrophoresis was performed to detect hyaluronidase activity in SDS-PAGE proteins. Western blots revealed significant differences in electrophoretic migration of PH-20 proteins from caput and cauda epididymal sperm. No effect was seen from deglycosylation treatments on the Western blot pattern; caput protein extracts exposed to trypsin showed the same band pattern as extracts from the cauda epididymis. N-deglycosylation resulted in the loss of hyaluronidase activity of sperm from both epididymal regions, whereas O-deglycosylation or trypsinization did not affect hyaluronidase activity. In caput epididymal sperm, the PH-20 protein is distributed over the entire sperm head; in cauda epididymal sperm, it is restricted to the postacrosomal region. No effect from deglycosylation on the cellular distribution of PH-20 was observed; however, treatment with trypsin changed the cellular distribution of PH-20 in caput sperm similar to that of the distribution of cauda sperm. These results suggest that PH-20 distribution during epididymal maturation is dependent on proteolytic trypsin-like mechanisms and, possibly, on complementary membrane-associated factors.
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