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Osmotic stress and cryoinjury of koala sperm: an integrative study of the plasma membrane, chromatin stability and mitochondrial function

S D Johnston, N Satake, Y Zee, C Lopez-Fernandez1, W V Holt2 and J Gosalvez1

School of Agriculture and Food Science, The University of Queensland, Gatton, Queensland 4343, Australia,
1BioEdificio de Biologia, Universidad Autonoma de Madrid, Cantoblanco, Madrid 28049, Spain and
Institute of Zoology, Zoological Society of London, Regent’s Park, London NW1 4RY, UK


This study investigated whether cryopreservation-induced injury to koala spermatozoa could be explained using an experimental model that mimics the structural and physiological effects of osmotic flux. DNA labelling after in situ nick translation of thawed cryopreserved spermatozoa revealed a positive correlation (r = 0.573; P<0.001; n = 50) between the area of relaxed chromatin in the nucleus and the degree of nucleotide labelling. While the chromatin of some spermatozoa increased more than eight times its normal size, not all sperm nuclei with relaxed chromatin showed evidence of nucleotide incorporation. Preferential staining associated with sperm DNA fragmentation (SDF) was typically located in the peri-acrosomal and peripheral regions of the sperm head and at the base of the spermatozoa where it appear to be ‘hot spots’ of DNA damage following cryopreservation. Results of the comparative effects of anisotonic media and cryopreservation on the integrity of koala spermatozoa revealed that injury induced by exposure to osmotic flux, essentially imitated the results found following cryopreservation. Plasma membrane integrity, chromatin relaxation and SDF appeared particularly susceptible to extreme hypotonic environments. Mitochondrial membrane potential (MMP), while susceptible to extreme hypo- and hypertonic environments, showed an ability to rebound from hypertonic stress when returned to isotonic conditions. Koala spermatozoa exposed to 64 mOsm/kg media showed an equivalent, or more severe, degree of structural and physiological injury to that of frozen–thawed spermatozoa, supporting the hypothesis that cryoinjury is principally associated with a hypo-osmotic effect. A direct comparison of SDF of thawed cryopreserved spermatozoa and those exposed to a 64 mOsm/kg excursion showed a significant correlation (r = 0.878; P<0.05; n = 5); however, no correlation was found when the percentage of sperm with relaxed chromatin was compared. While a cryo-induced osmotic injury model appears to explain post-thaw changes in koala SDF, the mechanisms resulting in relaxed chromatin require further study. A lack of correlation between the percentage of sperm with relaxed chromatin and SDF suggests that the timing of these pathologies are asynchronous. We propose an integrative model of cryo-induced osmotic injury that involves a combination of structural damage (rupture of membrane) and oxidative stress that first leads to the reduction of MMP and the relaxation of chromatin, which is then ultimately followed by an increase in DNA fragmentation.
Reproduction (2012) 143 787–797

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