Female sperm storage in the bonnethead Sphyrna tiburo oviducal gland: Immunolocalization of steroid hormone receptors in sperm storage tubules

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Female sperm storage (FSS) has been demonstrated to occur in representatives from all major vertebrate groups and has been hypothesized to have several possible adaptive benefits that may maximize reproductive success of its practitioners. However, while the range of taxa that exhibit FSS and its possible evolutionary benefits have received significant attention in past years, the physiological mechanisms by which FSS occurs in vertebrates have only recently been explored. In this study, we examined the potential role of gonadal steroid hormones in regulating FSS in the bonnethead Sphyrna tiburo, a small hammerhead species in which females have been shown to be capable of storing male spermatozoa for up to 6 – 7 months following copulation. Like past studies on this species, we observed associations between plasma concentrations of the gonadal steroids 17β-estradiol, testosterone, and progesterone with FSS in female bonnetheads, suggesting roles for these hormones in regulating this process. Using immunohistochemistry, we also observed presence of androgen receptor, estrogen receptor alpha (ERα), and progesterone receptor in epithelial cells of sperm storage tubules in the bonnethead oviducal gland, as well as occurrence of ERα in stored spermatozoa, specifically during the sperm storage period. These results suggest that E2, T, and P4 may regulate certain aspects of FSS in bonnethead indirectly through actions on the female reproductive tract, whereas E2 may also have direct effects on sperm function. This is the first study on the regulation of FSS in sharks and has formed a basis for future work geared towards improving our understanding of this process in chondrichthyans.

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General and Comparative Endocrinology



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