Sperm thiol oxidation during sperm maturation is important for sperm component stabilization, the acquisition of sperm motility, and fertilizing ability. A correct degree of oxidation is required, since spermatozoa are very susceptible to oxidative damage. The pathways involved in physiologic sperm thiol oxidation in the epididymis are not completely understood. The nonprotein thiol glutathione (GSH), in addition to playing a major role as an antioxidant and in eliminating toxic compounds, has been implicated in prooxidation processes in various cells, via γ-glutamyl-transpeptidase (γ-GT)-dependent catabolism. Little information is available on the dynamics of nonprotein thiols (NPSHs) and disulfides (NPSSNPs) in spermatozoa and epididymal fluid (EF) during sperm passage in the epididymis. It is not clear whether NPSHs and NPSSNPs are involved in sperm protein thiol (PSH) oxidation or whether GSH catabolism in the epididymis can serve as a pathway for sperm PSH oxidation. In the present study, we used the thiol fluorescence labeling agent monobromobimane to analyze NPSHs and nonprotein disulfides (NPSSRs) (R, nonprotein or protein) in spermatozoa and EF in the rat caput and cauda epididymis. NPSH levels are shown to be significantly higher in the caput than in the cauda (spermatozoa and fluid). GSH in the caput lumen is subject to high γ-GT activity. A marked loss of sperm GSH and a shift to an oxidized state (resulting in a significantly higher concentration of glutathione disulfides [GSSRs] than GSH) occur during the passage of spermatozoa from the caput to the cauda epididymis. Caput EF and extracellular NPSSNPs induce sperm thiol oxidation. The results suggest that epididymal NPSH/NPSSNP participates in sperm PSH oxidation and that some reactions of GSH in the γ-GT pathway (in the epididymis) provide oxidizing power, leading to physiologic sperm thiol oxidation.
- Cysteine/cysteine disulfides
- Glutathione/glutathione disulfides
- Nonprotein mixed disulfides
- Nonprotein-protein mixed disulfides
- Sperm oxidative pathways