The epididymis is a long, tightly coiled tube within the lumen of which sperm matures. Sperm maturation involves morphological and biochemical changes in the sperm plasma membrane in response to epididymal secretions and their various proteins. Some of these proteins become outer membrane components while others become integral membrane proteins; transfer of some proteins to the sperm plasma membrane may be mediated by epididymosomes. Nevertheless, the molecular pathways by which spermatozoa acquire fertilizing capacity during their transit through the epididymis remain ambiguous. In a recent study of stallion epididymal sperm, we found that sperm harvested from different parts of the epididymis (caput, corpus and cauda) had a varying, but generally poor, ability to undergo the acrosome reaction in vitro. At ejaculation, however, sperm mix with seminal plasma which contains various components, including the small membranous vesicles known as prostasomes, that may enable the sperm to undergo physiological activation. Seminal plasma components may have a 'washing' effect and help to remove 'de-capacitation' factors that coat the sperm during storage in the cauda epididymis; alternatively seminal plasma and prostasomes may contain factors that more directly promote sperm activation. This article reviews current information on the roles of epididymal and accessory gland fluids on the acquisition of fertilizing capacity by stallion sperm. © 2008 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
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