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J Androl. 2012 Jul-Aug;33(4):717-25. doi: 10.2164/jandrol.111.014944. Epub 2011 Dec 1.

Soy lecithin interferes with mitochondrial function in frozen-thawed ram spermatozoa.

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Department of Biochemistry and Molecular and Cell Biology, University of Zaragoza, Miguel Servet, 177, 50013 Zaragoza, Spain.


Egg yolk and milk are the 2 major membrane cryoprotectants commonly used in freezing media for the long-term preservation of semen (alone or in combination with others). However, in recent years, there have been increasing arguments against the use of egg yolk or milk because of the risk of introducing diseases through the use of cryopreserved semen. In this study, we analyzed the protective effect of lecithin as an alternative to egg yolk for the cryopreservation of ram semen, using a range of functional markers for sperm viability, motility, apoptosis, and mitochondrial functionality analyses (mitochondrial inner membrane surface [MIMS], mitochondrial inner membrane potential [MIMP], and cell membrane potential) as methods of assessment in samples diluted in 3 different media: Tris-citrate-glucose as control and 2 media supplemented with soy lecithin or egg yolk. The results showed that lecithin was able to effectively protect certain sperm quality characteristics against freezing-induced damage. However, lecithin induced loss of mitochondrial membrane potential or mitochondrial loss that was not reflected by modifications in sperm motility in fresh semen. MIMS and MIMP values decreased in thawed lecithin-treated samples, concomitant with a lower (P < .05) percentage of total and progressively motile cells, compared with those in egg yolk-containing samples. Further incubation of thawed samples revealed changes in motility and mitochondrial functionality that otherwise would not have been detected. These results indicated that lecithin may have affected the inner mitochondrial membrane in frozenthawed spermatozoa and confirmed that sublethal damages that seriously affect sperm functionality, not detected by classic sperm quality analyses, can be evidenced by changes in the inner mitochondrial membrane surface. These findings strengthen the relationship between mitochondrial membrane potential and motility and show that the mitochondrial alterations induced by the cryopreservation process could be specific targets for the improvement of semen cryopreservation protocols.

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