In mammals, the physiological interaction between spermatozoa and oviductal epithelia involves intimate and specific contact between the two cell types. Spermatozoa may undergo stringent selection processes within the female reproductive tract before they meet and fertilize oocytes. The physiological basis of the sperm selection process is largely unknown. Here we tested the hypothesis that the oviduct has a recognition system for spermatozoa that can detect the arrival of spermatozoa in the oviduct after insemination, resulting in alterations of the oviductal transcriptome. We initially performed a global screening of the oviductal transcriptome in mice 1) at the time of estrus (mating) and 2) 6 h after mating. Transcriptional alterations in the oviduct after mating were attributed to the presence of spermatozoa in the oviduct after mating and also to changes in the hormonal environment as female mice underwent the transition from estrus to diestrus. To distinguish these possibilities, female mice were then mated with T145H mutant mice, which because of spermatogenic arrest, produce seminal plasma but no spermatozoa. Focusing on two molecules that in the first experiment were upregulated after mating, it was found that adrenomedullin and prostaglandin endoperoxidase synthase 2 transcripts were upregulated in the oviducts of mice only after mating with fertile males; those mated with T145H infertile males showed significantly less response. These results indicate that it is the arrival of spermatozoa in the oviduct that activates one or more signal transduction pathways and leads to changes in the oviductal transcriptome profiles.
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