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Sperm membrane fatty acid composition in the Eastern grey kangaroo (Macropus giganteus), koala (Phascolarctos cinereus), and common wombat (Vombatus ursinus) and its relationship to cold shock injury and cryopreservation success

R.R. Miller Jr.a,*, C.J. Sheffera, C.L. Cornetta, R. McCleanb, C. MacCallumb, S.D. Johnstonb

a Biology Department, Hillsdale College, Hillsdale, MI, USA
b School of Animal Studies, The University of Queensland, Gatton 4343, Australia

Marsupial spermatozoa tolerate cold shock well, but differ in cryopreservation tolerance. In an attempt to explain these phenomena, the fatty acid composition of the sperm membrane from caput and cauda epididymides of the Eastern grey kangaroo, koala, and common wombat was measured and membrane sterol levels were measured in cauda epididymidal spermatozoa. While species-related differences in the levels of linolenic acid (18:3, n-6) and arachidonic acid (20:4, n-6) were observed in caput epididymal spermatozoa, these differences failed to significantly alter the ratio of unsaturated/saturated membrane fatty acids. However in cauda epididymidal spermatozoa, the ratio of unsaturated/ saturated membrane fatty acids in koala and kangaroo spermatozoa was approximately 7.6 and 5.2, respectively; substantially higher than any other mammalian species so far described. Koala spermatozoal membranes had a higher ratio of unsaturated/saturated membrane fatty acids than that of wombat spermatozoa (t = 3.81; df = 4; p 6 0.02); however, there was no significant difference between wombat and kangaroo spermatozoa. The highest proportions of DHA (22:6, n-3), the predominant membrane fatty acid in cauda epididymidal spermatozoa, were found in wombat and koala spermatozoa. While species related differences in membrane sterol levels (cholesterol and desmosterol) were observed in cauda epididymidal spermatozoa, marsupial membrane sterol levels are very low. Marsupial spermatozoal membrane analyses do not support the hypothesis that a high ratio of saturated/unsaturated membrane fatty acids and low membrane sterol levels predisposes spermatozoa to cold shock damage. Instead, cryogenic tolerance appears related to DHA levels.