Several procedures have been proposed to assess structural and functional characteristics of cryopreserved ram semen but none so far have yielded consistent relationships with in vivo fertility. The objectives of this study were to evaluate several sperm function tests as potential markers of in vivo ram fertility (determined by pregnancy rate in ewes) using frozen-thawed semen. In experiment 1, frozen-thawed straws (n=3 per ram) of semen from three high and three low fertility rams were assessed using fluorescent microscopy for (1) progressive motility, (2) viability and, (3) acrosomal status. In experiment 2, frozen-thawed straws (n=3 per ram) of semen from 18 rams of known fertility were analysed using either computer-assisted sperm analysis (CASA) for eight motion characteristics or flow cytometric staining for: (1) viability and acrosomal status, (2) plasma membrane status and capacitation-like changes, and (3) live cells following an osmotic resistance test (ORT). In experiment 3, platelet-activating factor (PAF) was isolated from straws (n=2 per ram) of semen using high-pressure liquid chromatography (HPLC) and quantified using HPLC-tandem mass spectrometry for 18 rams. In experiment 1, no association was found between motility, viability (% live) or acrosomal status (% damaged, % intact and % reacted) and in vivo fertility. In experiment 2, no correlation was found between motility (CASA), viability (% live), acrosomal status (% live, % live intact and % reacted), capacitation status (% capacitated, % non-capacitated), plasma membrane stability (% dead) and % live cells following ORT and ram in vivo fertility. In experiment 3, there was no relationship between PAF content in spermatozoa and ram fertility. In conclusion, we were unable to relate the in vivo fertility of rams with in vitro functional tests of their frozen-thawed semen and suggest that the fertility of a given semen sample cannot easily be quantified using available in vitro tests.
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