The association between sperm morphology characteristics and DNA conformation and integrity is still controversial. In bulls, major morphological sperm abnormalities have been associated with reduced fertility, and morphological assessment is used to provide an indication of potential fertility of the individual. Sperm DNA fragmentation and damage has a negative effect on embryo development and subsequently fertility, with bull spermatozoa generally displaying low levels of DNA damage and tight chromatin. However, sensitive methods for detecting chromatin damage may reveal associations with morphological defects.
The objective was to determine whether morphological sperm abnormalities and variables expressing sperm DNA integrity and protamination are correlated in bulls, using the sperm chromatin structure assay (SCSA) and the sperm protamine deficiency
assay (SPDA). Electroejaculated samples (n = 1009) from two-year-old tropically adapted bulls were split and fixed and submitted to microscopic sperm morphology assessment, and snap-frozen for sperm nuclear integrity assessments by SPDA and SCSA.
For SPDA, the variables were defective (MCB) and deprotaminated (HCB), and for SCSA, the variables were DNA fragmentation index (DFI) and high DNA stainability (HDS). HCB correlated with DFI; sKen2 = 0.317 and HDS; 0.098, and MCB correlated
with DFI; 0.183 (p < 0.001). The percentage of morphological normal spermatozoa was correlated negatively to DFI; sKen2 = 0.168, MCB; 0.116 and HCB; 0.137 (p < 0.001). HCB and DFI were both positively correlated to head defects, proximal
droplets, and spermatogenic immaturity, but not to distal droplets, vacuoles, or diadems. Sperm DNA integrity and protamination, using the SCSA and SPDA, respectively, in bulls show associations with morphological parameters, particularly with head shape abnormalities and indicators of spermatogenic immaturity, including proximal droplets. The vacuoles and diadem defects were not correlated with sperm nuclear integrity, and hence, these are likely physiological features that may not directly affect sperm chromatin configuration. [Andrology 6: 627-633, 2018]