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The Effect of Chilled Storage and Cryopreservation on the Sperm DNA Fragmentation Dynamics of a Captive Population of Koalas

STEPHEN D. JOHNSTON,* YENG PENG ZEE,* CARMEN LOPEZ-FERNANDEZ,† AND JAMIE GOSALVEZ

From the *School of Agriculture and Food Science, University of Queensland, Gatton, Australia; and the †Department of Genetics, Autonomous University of Madrid, Cantoblanco, Spain.

ABSTRACT
This experiment documented the incidence and variability of sperm characteristics found in freshly collected and ex vivo–manipulated semen samples from a population of disease-free captive koalas with a special emphasis on the dynamic aspects of DNA fragmentation. These changes were analyzed in light of the putative negative effect of iatrogenic damage after chilled storage and cryopreservation with respect to different semen extender compositions to maximize sperm longevity. Sperm DNA fragmentation (SDF) dynamics (SDF assessment after a varying period of time) was investigated with the sperm chromatin dispersion assay after either dilution in tris-citrate media and chilled preservation at 4°C for upward of 16 days or cryopreservation in either glycerol or dimethylacetamide (DMA) tris-citrate–based cryoprotectant media; corresponding data on progressive sperm motility, plasma membrane integrity, and the proportion of koala sperm with relaxed chromatin were also recorded. SDF analysis of the captive koala population revealed a low mean (±SEM) basal level of only 6.7% ± 0.9%. The percentage of progressive sperm motility, percentage of intact sperm plasma membranes, and the percentage of relaxed chromatin did not correlate significantly with that of basal SDF. Moreover, despite the absence of cysteine residues in marsupial protamines, koala spermatozoa showed remarkable stability in terms of their DNA integrity after the incubation of either fresh, chilled, or frozen-thawed semen samples; observations of progressive motility (P < .05) and plasma membrane integrity (P < .05) revealed that chilled koala spermatozoa declined after 4 days, whereas the incidence of relaxed chromatin increased after 8 days. Although koala SDF increased significantly (P < .05) with the period of chilled storage, these values remained less than 16% after 16 days storage and subsequent incubation at 35°C for a further 48 hours. Survivorship of prefreeze sperm DNA damage was not different when compared with sperm frozen in DMA or between sperm frozen in DMA or glycerol; however, spermatozoa frozen in glycerol showed a higher (P = .042) rate of DNA fragmentation than prefreeze spermatozoa. This result differed from that of observations of progressive motility, plasma membrane integrity, and relaxed chromatin, which were all adversely affected (P < .05) after cryopreservation in either glycerol or DMA; however, the postthaw characteristics of sperm cryopreserved in either glycerol or DMA were not different. After thawing, koala sperm chromatin tended to decondense; however, the incidence of sperm DNA fragmentation was not correlated with the incidence of sperm chromatin relaxation after glycerol (R = .2) or DMA (R = -.04) cryopreservation. Key words: Assisted reproduction, semen, semen analysis, marsupial.
J Androl 2012;33:1007–1015

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