In their transit from the caput to the cauda segments of the epididymis, rat spermatozoa undergo significant modifications in lipid content and composition. The amount of lipid phosphorus per cell decreases, and most lipid classes show specific changes in their constituent fatty acids. A depletion of phosphatidylcholine and phosphatidylethanolamine, concomitant with a virtually unchanged amount of the corresponding plasmalogens, are the major alterations, plasmenylcholine thereby becoming the major phospholipid. Diphosphatidylglycerol, sphingomyelin and the phosphoinositides decrease to a lesser extent or do not change at all, also resulting in relative increases with sperm maturation. Concerning the fatty acids, the proportions of oleate (C18:1, n-9) and linoleate (C18:2, n-6) in most lipids decrease on movement of sperm from caput to cauda, augmenting in turn the proportions of longer-chain (C20 to C24) and more unsaturated fatty acids. Docosapentaenoate (C22:5, n-6) is a major acyl chain present in all lipids at both stages, but uncommon long-chain polyenoic fatty acids of the n-9 series are also present, being almost exclusively found in the choline glycerophospholipids. These fatty acids are found to undergo the most significant changes during sperm maturation. They are minor components of plasmenylcholine in immature spermatozoa, but increase severalfold on maturation, representing more than half of the acyl chains of this major lipid in cells from the cauda. The high concentration of n-9 polyenes in mature sperm plasmenylcholine raises intriguing questions on the possible role epididymal cells may play in providing spermatozoa with such an unusual phospholipid. These plasmenylcholines could contribute to the characteristic lipid domain organization of the mature spermatozoa plasma membrane.

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