Spermatozoa induce transcriptomic alterations in bovine oviductal epithelial cells prior to initial contact


The capability of spermatozoa to directly influence maternal gene expression is already established. Indeed, some of the changes induced by spermatozoa may have a direct functional importance in the pre-conceptional period. Although the mechanisms underlying these sperm-maternal interactions are not well characterized, it is possible that they could involve ligands that are released from the spermatozoa. This study therefore aimed to test whether physical contact between bovine spermatozoa and bovine oviductal epithelial cells (BOECs) is a prerequisite for spermatozoa-induced gene expression changes. We used two co-culture models: a contact co-culture model in which spermatozoa interact directly with BOECs, and a non-contact co-culture model in which an insert with the pore size of 0.4 μm was placed between spermatozoa and BOECs. Messenger RNA sequencing analysis of BOECs by RNA-seq revealed ten differentially expressed genes in contact system and 108 differentially expressed genes in the non-contact system after 10 h of co-culture. Retinol metabolism pathway and ovarian steroidogenesis pathway were significantly enriched in the non-contact co-culture system. Q-PCR analysis revealed that transcriptional responses can be rapid, with increased expression of four genes (DHRS3, CYP1B1, PTGS2, and ATF3) detectable within just 90 min of co-incubation, but with expression levels highly dependent on the type of co-culture system. The findings from our study demonstrate that direct contact with spermatozoa is not necessary to induce changes in gene expression of oviductal epithelial cells, suggesting that spermatozoa may be able to signal to maternal tissues in advance of their arrival.