Microscopic sperm head damage and abnormalities as heat stress indicators in Australian Merino rams <i>(Ovis aries)</i> in Northern Patagonia, Argentina
In Northern Patagonia, the mating season starts on March 15th, when rams are submitted to summer temperatures. Exposure of rams to heat stress increases the prevalence of microscopic damage to spermatozoa, morphological abnormalities, and reductions in fertility. This study assesses the adaptive capabilities of six unshorn and six shorn Australian Merino rams, half of which were treated in a heat chamber for eight hours for five days, gradually reaching a temperature of up to 40 °C. Microscopic damage, abnormalities and ultramicroscopic alterations of the plasma membrane and the acrosome of sperm head were analysed. There were significant differences in the percentage of tailless spermatozoa and proximal cytoplasmic droplets between post-treatment periods. Temperature primarily affected the shorn rams and the sperm heads during spermiogenesis. Submicroscopic alterations were observed when the plasma membrane was present in the anterior segment. These alterations can be intact, waved, or dilated. When the plasma membrane was absent, the acrosome might be intact, dilated, and waved. In addition, the outer acrosomal membrane may completely lose its contents or have a nude nucleus. The plasma membrane assumes a waved shape as a result of the effect of temperature on the epididymis. According to this study, the tailless head, proximal cytoplasmic droplets, and the ultramicroscopic categories studied were robust indicators of semen heat stress. After ten weeks, the sperm head recovered its normal shape. Unshorn rams are better adapted to summer heat stress than shorn ones. Microscopy and transmission electron microscopy alterations have been shown to be excellent indicators of thermal stress in Australian Merino rams and may be useful tools to help sheep farmers choose when to begin the mating season, which will vary depending on the environmental conditions of the summer.
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