Post-testicular sperm environment and fertility
When mammalian spermatozoa exit the testis, they show a highly specialized morphology; however, they are not yet able to carry out their task: to fertilize an oocyte. This property, that includes the acquisition of motility and the ability to recognize and to fuse with the oocyte investments, is gained only after a transit through the epididymis during which the spermatozoa from the testis travel to the vas deferens. The exact molecular mechanisms that turn these cells into fertile gametes still remain mysterious, but surface-modifying events occurring in response to the external media are key steps in this process. Our laboratory has established cartographies of secreted (secretomes) and present proteins (proteomes) in the epididymal fluid of different mammals and have shown the regionalized variations in these fluid proteins along the epididymis. We have found that the main secreted proteins are common in different species and that enzymatic activities, capable of controlling the sperm surface changes, are present in the fluid. Our studies also indicate that the epididymal fluid is more complex than previously thought; it contains both soluble and particulate compartments such as exosome-like vesicles (epididymosomes) and certainly specific glycolipid-protein micelles. Understanding how these different compartments interplay to modify sperm components during their transit will be a necessary step if one wants to control and to ameliorate sperm quality and to obtain valuable fertility markers helpful to establish a male fertility based genetic selection. (C) 2004 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.