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Ecol Evol. 2015 Aug;5(15):3023-30. doi: 10.1002/ece3.1575. Epub 2015 Jul 7.

Sperm storage and spermatozoa interaction with epithelial cells in oviduct of Chinese soft-shelled turtle, Pelodiscus sinensis.

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Laboratory of Animal Cell Biology and Embryology, College of Veterinary Medicine, Nanjing Agricultural University Nanjing, Jiangsu, 210095, China.


Spermatozoa are known to be stored within the female genital tract after mating in various species to optimize timing of reproductive events such as copulation, fertilization, and ovulation. The mechanism supporting long-term sperm storage is still unclear in turtles. The aim of this study was to investigate the interaction between the spermatozoa and oviduct in Chinese soft-shelled turtle by light and electron microscopy to reveal the potential cytological mechanism of long-term sperm storage. Spermatozoa were stored in isthmus, uterine, and vagina of the oviduct throughout the year, indicating long-term sperm storage in vivo. Sperm heads were always embedded among the cilia and even intercalated into the apical hollowness of the ciliated cells in the oviduct mucosal epithelium. The stored spermatozoa could also gather in the gland conduit. There was no lysosome distribution around the hollowness of the ciliated cell, suggesting that the ciliated cells of the oviduct can support the spermatozoa instead of phagocytosing them in the oviduct. Immune cells were sparse in the epithelium and lamina propria of oviduct, although few were found inside the blood vessel of mucosa, which may be an indication of immune tolerance during sperm storage in the oviduct of the soft-shelled turtle. These characteristics developed in the turtle benefited spermatozoa survival for a long time as extraneous cells in the oviduct of this species. These findings would help to improve the understanding of reproductive regularity and develop strategies of species conservation in the turtle. The Chinese soft-shelled turtle may be a potential model for uncovering the mechanism behind the sperm storage phenomenon.


Chinese soft-shelled turtle (Pelodiscus sinensis); immune cells; sperm storage; spermatozoa–epithelium interaction

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