Most aspects of reproductive function including spermatogenesis, oocyte growth and maturation, early embryonic development, fetal and placental growth, and lactation can be affected by thermal stress. Furthermore, it has been shown that oxidative stress involves in the pathology of thermal stress. Therefore, the aim of this study was to investigate the impacts of thermal stress on the ovine mature epididymal spermatozoa extracted from testes of slaughtered rams in the presence or absence of an antioxidant. Epididymal spermatozoa were incubated at scrotal (32.00 ˚C), normal body (39.00 ˚C), and hyperthermic temperatures (41.00 ˚C) for 4 hr in the presence or absence of 1 mmol L-1 β-mercaptoethanol. The results demonstrated the high sensitivity of ram epididymal spermatozoa to the hyperthermic temperature at in vitro conditions. In comparison with scrotal temperature, quality parameters of spermatozoa were negatively affected by increase in temperature, as such in the spermatozoa incubated at hyperthermic temperature significant decrease was observed in the viability, DNA integrity and in the majority of motility parameters. Moreover, concentration of lipid peroxidation by-products, thiobarbituric acid reactive substances, were significantly increased. The findings showed that using antioxidant during incubation period had significant protective effect on the viability and motility of incubated spermatozoa not only at the hyperthermic temperature, but also at the scrotal and normal body temperatures. In conclusion the ovine epididymal spermatozoa were sensitive to in vitro thermal stress and it seems that this sensitivity was partly related to the oxidative stress.
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