Previously, we showed that epididymal sperm binding protein 1 (ELSPBP1) characterizes spermatozoa already dead before ejaculation in bovine. In this study, we investigated the presence of ELSPBP1 in bull genital tract as well as its acquisition by spermatozoa during epididymal transit. As assessed by real-time RT-PCR, ELSPBP1 was highly expressed in the caput and the corpus epididymis but was present in lower expression levels in the testis and the cauda epididymis. Immunohistochemistry revealed the same expression pattern. However, Western blot on tissue homogenates showed some discrepancies, as ELSPBP1 was found in a comparable concentration all along the epididymis. This difference was due to the presence of ELSPBP1 in the epididymal fluid. In both caput and cauda epididymal fluid, ELSPBP1 was associated with the epididymosomes, small membranous vesicles secreted by epithelial cells of the epididymis and implicated in the transfer of proteins to spermatozoa. As assessed by immunocytometry, ELSPBP1 was found on a subset of dead spermatozoa in caput epididymis but was found on all dead spermatozoa in cauda epididymis. To assess ELSPBP1 acquisition by spermatozoa, caput epididymal spermatozoa were incubated with cauda epididymosomes under various conditions. ELSPBP1 detection by immunocytometry assay revealed that only spermatozoa already dead before incubation were receptive to ELSPBP1 transfer by epididymosomes. This receptivity was enhanced by the presence of zinc in the incubation medium. This specificity for a sperm subpopulation suggests that an underlying mechanism is involved and that ELSPBP1 could be a tag for the recognition of dead spermatozoa during epididymal transit.
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Vol. 87 • No. 4