Regulation of sperm storage and movement in the mammalian oviduct
Published: 1 July 2008
Susan S. Suarez*
Department of Biomedical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, USA
The oviduct plays a vital role in ensuring successful fertilization and normal early embryonic development. The male inseminates many thousands or even millions of sperm, but this alone does not ensure that fertilization will be successful. The female tract, particularly the oviduct, provides filters that select for normal vigorously motile sperm. In conjunction with molecules in the seminal plasma and on sperm, the female tract regulates how and when sperm pass though the tract to reach the site of fertilization. Various regulatory processes control sperm passage into and through the oviduct. In some species, the uterotubal junction opens and closes to regulate when sperm may enter; furthermore, passage through the junction requires certain proteins on the sperm surface. Most of the sperm that manage to enter the oviduct soon become trapped and held in a reservoir. In marsupials and insectivores, this involves trapping sperm in mucosal crypts; while in most other mammalian species, this involves binding sperm to the oviductal epithelium. As the time of ovulation approaches, the sperm in the reservoir undergo capacitation, including motility hyperactivation. Capacitating sperm shed proteins that bind them to the mucosal epithelium, while hyperactivation assists the sperm in pulling off of the epithelium and escaping out of mucosal pockets. The process of sperm release is gradual, reducing chances of polyspermic fertilization. Released sperm may be guided towards the oocyte by secretions of the oviduct, cumulus cells, or oocyte. Hyperactivation likely assists sperm in penetrating the cumulus matrix and is absolutely required for penetrating the oocyte zona pellucida and achieving fertilization.