The aim of this study was to assess the participation of carbohydrate residues in the adhesion of spermatozoa to the oviductal epithelium in the rat. We first examined, by lectin labeling, the distribution of glycoconjugates in rat oviducts obtained under various hormonal environments. Several classes of glycoconjugates were abundant in the epithelium, and the expression of some of these molecules varied differentially in ampulla and isthmus, along the estrous cycle and with estradiol and progesterone treatment. Proestrous rats were intraoviductally injected with lectins Dolichos biflorus, Erythrina cristagalli, Helix pomatia, Arachis hypogea, Ulex europaeus I, Triticum vulgaris, or Tritrichomonas mobilensis and were inseminated with 10–20 million epididymal spermatozoa in each uterine horn. Three hours later, the total number of spermatozoa present in the oviduct and the proportion adhering to the epithelium were determined. Intraoviductal administration of lectins did not affect the total number of spermatozoa recovered from the oviduct and only the sialic acid-binding lectin TML decreased the percentage of sperm cells adhering to the epithelium. The involvement of sialic acid in sperm-oviduct adhesion was further explored, inseminating spermatozoa preincubated with mannose, galactose, sialic acid, fucose, fetuin, or asialofetuin. Sialic acid and fetuin inhibited sperm-oviduct binding while other carbohydrates had no effect. Using TML lectin immunohistochemistry, we found that sialic acid-rich glycoconjugates are equally localized in the epithelium of ampulla and isthmus of proestrous rats. The electrophoretic pattern of sialic acid-rich glycoproteins of the epithelium showed 15 major protein bands, for which molecular mass ranged from 200 to 50 kDa with no difference between ampulla and isthmus or between estrous cycle stages. Binding sites for sialic acid-fluorescein isothiocyanate were demonstrated on the surface of rat spermatozoa, and biotinylated sialic acid recognized 11 plasma membrane proteins of sperm cells. These groups of sialic acid-rich glycoproteins in the oviductal epithelium and of sialic acid-binding proteins in the plasma membrane of sperm cells are good candidates for further studies to characterize the molecules responsible for sperm binding. We conclude that there are segment-specific changes of sugar residues present in the oviductal epithelium associated with different endocrine environments. Sperm-oviduct adhesion in the rat occurs by interaction of sialoglycoconjugates present in the epithelial cells with sialic acid-binding proteins on the sperm surface. This replicates the situation previously found in hamsters, disclosing for the first time that species-specificity in the sugar involved in sperm binding is not absolute.
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