Head plasma membranes were isolated from the sperm-rich fraction of boar semen and from sperm-rich semen that had been subjected to three commercial preservation processes: Extended for fresh insemination (extended), prepared for freezing but not frozen (cooled), and stored frozen for 3-5 weeks (frozen-thawed). Fluorescence polarization was used to determine fluidity of the membranes of all samples for 160 min at 25 degrees C and also for membranes from the sperm-rich and extended semen during cooling and reheating (25 to 5 to 40 degrees C, 0.4 degrees C/min). Head plasma membranes from extended semen were initially more fluid than from other sources (P less than 0.05). Fluidity of head membranes from all sources decreased at 25 degrees C, but the rate of decrease was significantly lower for membranes from cooled and lower again for membranes from frozen-thawed semen. Cooling to 5 degrees C reduced the rate of fluidity change for plasma membranes from the sperm-rich fraction, while heating over 30 degrees C caused a significantly greater decrease. The presence of Ca++ (10 mM) lowered the fluidity of the head plasma membranes from sperm-rich and extended semen over time at 25 degrees C but did not affect the membranes from the cooled or frozen-thawed semen. The change in head plasma membrane fluidity at 25 degrees C may reflect the dynamic nature of spermatozoa membranes prior to fertilization. Extenders, preservation processes and temperature changes have a strong influence on head plasma membrane fluidity and therefore the molecular organization of this membrane.