Endogenous retinoids in rat epididymal tissue and rat and human spermatozoa

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Recent work has demonstrated high levels of retinoid binding proteins in rat epididymis, and a lumenal retinoic acid binding protein has been purified. These findings suggested that vitamin A may be involved in spermatozoal maturation in the epididymis. We further addressed this question by quantifying retinol, retinyl esters, and retinoic acid isomers from perfused epididymal tissue, from rat testicular and epididymal spermatozoa, and from human ejaculate sperm. HPLC showed vitamin A levels to be higher in caput than in corpus or cauda tissue. Retinoic acid and 9-cis-retinoic acid were found to be graded from lowest levels in caput to highest in cauda. Spermatozoa from caput epididymidis and enriched testicular spermatozoa were found to have higher levels of vitamin A than did spermatozoa from corpus or cauda epididymidis. Spermatozoal retinyl esters had acyl substituents similar to those seen in whole epididymis, and diminished in quantity in sperm from distal segments. Human ejaculate sperm were found to retain high levels of retinyl palmitate and stearate. Retinol and retinoic acid were only marginally detectable in human sperm. Retention of retinoids in mature spermatozoa suggests roles for vitamin A in spermatozoal reproductive physiology beyond the epididymal stage.

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Biology of Reproduction

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