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Cryobiology. 2011 Feb;62(1):15-21. doi: 10.1016/j.cryobiol.2010.11.004. Epub 2010 Nov 26.

Frozen-thawed rhesus sperm retain normal morphology and highly progressive motility but exhibit sharply reduced efficiency in penetrating cervical mucus and hyaluronic acid gel.

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Center for Health and the Environment, University of California, Davis, CA 95616, USA.


The preservation of the genetic diversity of captive populations of rhesus monkeys is critical to the future of biomedical research. Cryopreservation of rhesus macaque sperm is relatively simple to perform, yields high post-thaw motility, and theoretically, provides via artificial insemination (AI) a way to easily transfer genetics among colonies of animals. In the interest of optimizing semen cryopreservation methods for use with vaginal AI, we evaluated the ability of frozen-thawed rhesus sperm to penetrate periovulatory cervical mucus (CM). Motile sperm concentration of pre-freeze ("fresh") and post-thawed ("thawed") samples from five different males were normalized for both computer assisted sperm motion analysis and CM penetration experiments. Sperm samples were deposited into slide chambers containing CM or gel composed of hyaluronic acid (HA) as a surrogate for CM and numbers of sperm were recorded as they entered a video field a preset distance from the sperm suspension-CM (or HA) interface. Fresh and thawed sperm were dried on glass slides, "Pap"-stained, and assessed for changes in head dimensions and head and flagellar shape. While retaining better than 80% of fresh sperm progressive motility, thawed sperm from the same ejaculate retained on average only 18.6% of the CM penetration ability. Experiments using HA gel yielded similar results only with reduced experimental error and thus improved detection of treatment differences. Neither the percentage of abnormal forms nor head dimensions differed between fresh and thawed sperm. While findings suggests that sperm-CM interaction is a prominent factor in previous failures of vaginal AI with cryopreserved macaque sperm, neither sperm motility nor morphology appears to account for changes in the ability of cryopreserved sperm to penetrate CM. Our data points to a previously unidentified manifestation of cryodamage which may have implications for assessment of sperm function beyond the cervix and across mammalian species.

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