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Reproduction. 2007 Jul;134(1):3-17.

Determinants of sperm quality and fertility in domestic species.

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  • 1Unit for Reproductive Medicine of Clinics, Clinic for Horses, University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover Foundation, Bünteweg 15, 30559 Hannover, Germany.


Fertilization success cannot be attributed solely to the absolute number of vital, motile, morphologically normal spermatozoa inseminated into the female but more especially to their functional competence. A range of in vitro tests has therefore been developed to monitor crucial aspects of sperm function: their ability to adapt to changing osmotic conditions, to bind to the oviductal epithelium, and to undergo capacitation in an appropriate and timely manner. The tests employ flow cytometry in conjunction with fluorescent techniques, electronic cell counting, and computer-assisted image area analysis. The highly quantitative analysis provided by electronic sizing and flow cytometry enables assessment of representative cell numbers in a very short time with high reproducibility. More importantly, it allows the detection of physiological heterogeneity within an ejaculate in terms of the development of cell subpopulations and enables the kinetic analysis of changes in living cell suspensions. The tests offer a promising strategy for evaluating fertility in domestic animals. The capability for volume regulation ensures that sperm recover from the tonic shocks experienced at ejaculation and during cryopreservation. Assessment of capacitation in vitro provides valuable information on both the sperm's ability to respond to fertilizing conditions and the sequence and rates of ongoing capacitation/destabilization processes. The monitoring of response to capacitating conditions in kinetic terms allows the sensitive and adequate detection of sperm populations expressing fertilization attributes and their ability to respond to external stimuli in a timely manner. However, subfertility is likely to be associated with a suboptimal response (i.e. too high or too low) rather than a minimal response.

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