The effect of low temperatures on the ultrastructure of the plasma membrane of bull and boar spermatozoa was investigated. Cold-induced changes in the organization of sperm plasma membrane components were demonstrated by the use of fast-freezing combined with freeze-fracture electron microscopy. This preparation technique ensures fixation without artifacts. At 38 degrees C bull and boar spermatozoa exhibited a random distribution of intramembranous particles over the plasma membrane of both head and tail. Exposure to 0 degree C resulted in redistribution of the intramembranous particles: on the head and principal piece of bull spermatozoa and on the principal piece of boar spermatozoa, particle-free areas were observed, whereas on the boar sperm head, particle aggregates were present. The original particle distribution was restored upon rewarming of bull and boar spermatozoa to 38 degrees C, as well as after freezing and thawing of bull spermatozoa. Dilution of bull and boar semen into Tris-dilution buffer and Beltsville Thaw Solution-dilution buffer, respectively, could not prevent cold-induced redistribution of intramembranous particles. The observed particle reorganization upon cooling was interpreted as the result of lateral phase separation in the plasma membrane. Species-dependent differences in cold-induced ultrastructural changes were considered to be determined by lipid composition and asymmetry of the plasma membrane, and might be related to differences in cold resistance between species.