Artificial insemination (AI) is a valuable tool for ex situ wildlife conservation, allowing the re-infusion and dissemination of genetic material, even after death of the donor. However, the application of AI to species conservation is still limited, due mainly to the poor survival of cryopreserved sperm. Recent work demonstrated that oviductal extracellular vesicles (oEVs) improved cat sperm motility and reduced premature acrosomal exocytosis. Here, we build on these findings by describing the protein content of dog and cat oEVs and investigating whether the incubation of cryopreserved red wolf and cheetah sperm with oEVs during thawing improves sperm function. Both red wolf and cheetah sperm thawed with dog and cat oEVs, respectively, had more intact acrosomes than the non-EV controls. Moreover, red wolf sperm thawed in the presence of dog oEVs better maintained sperm motility over time (>15%) though such an improvement was not observed in cheetah sperm. Our work demonstrates that dog and cat oEVs carry proteins important for sperm function and improve post-thaw motility and/or acrosome integrity of red wolf and cheetah sperm in vitro. The findings show how oEVs can be a valuable tool for improving the success of AI with cryopreserved sperm in threatened species.
Keywords: cryopreservation; gamete rescue; oviduct; sperm; wildlife.