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Comp Biochem Physiol A Mol Integr Physiol. 2011 Jun;159(2):105-12. doi: 10.1016/j.cbpa.2011.01.018. Epub 2011 Feb 2.

The effects of radiation on sperm swimming behavior depend on plasma oxidative status in the barn swallow (Hirundo rustica).

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  • 1Dipartimento di Biologia, Università degli Studi di Milano, via Celoria 26, I-20133 Milano, Italy.


Sperm are highly susceptible to reactive oxygen species (ROS) that can damage sperm DNA and structure, resulting in reduced fertilizing capacity. Exposure to radioactive contamination can also impair sperm swimming behavior and fertilizing ability, both through a reduction of sperm DNA integrity and via an increased generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS). However, the relationship between individual oxidative status and sperm swimming behavior has never been investigated in any wild population of animals exposed to radioactive contamination. We studied the motility of sperm collected from barn swallows, Hirundo rustica, breeding under different levels of radioactive contamination following the Chernobyl accident in 1986, in relation to individual oxidative status. We tested the hypothesis that the degree of impairment of sperm swimming behavior by radioactive contamination depended on plasma antioxidant capacity, the level of reactive oxygen metabolites (ROMs) and oxidative stress (sensu Costantini et al. 2006), a better oxidative status being associated with higher sperm motility. Sperm behavior parameters were subjected to principal component (PC) analysis, which extracted four PCs explaining 86% of the variance in sperm motility. PC2, representing sperm with high track velocity and ample lateral head displacement, was significantly predicted by the interaction between radiation level and either oxidative damage or oxidative stress. Contrary to our predictions, the highest values of PC2 were associated with relatively high radiation levels, particularly for high levels of either ROMs or oxidative stress. In addition, there was a tendency for values of PC3 (representing the percent of motile sperm) and PC4 (representing slow sperm with high beat cross frequency) to depend on the interaction between radiation level and total plasma antioxidant protection. Our results confirm the importance of oxidative status in determining the genetic and physiological outcome of exposure to radioactive contamination, complementing previous studies relating sperm abnormality to circulating levels of specific antioxidants. Our results also complement previous evidence that oxidative damage of sperm was negatively related to sperm motility, thus indicating a possible trade-off in quenching pro-oxidant compounds in the plasma and the seminal fluid.

Copyright © 2011 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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