Artificial insemination using frozen dog semen is associated with a sluggish progress compared with that of other animal species (England 1993). Identifying the best cryoprotectant for preventing cryodamage-induced molecular toxicity in dog sperm post-thaw is a focus for several research groups, including our group (Farstad 2009, Qamar et al. 2020). Reactive oxygen species (ROS) are resulted from physiological cellular metabolic processes, which pushes the cells to early aging and apoptosis (Redza-Dutordoir &Averill-Bates 2016). Organisms have diverse and complex systems to balance and maintain harmless intracellular ROS levels to protect phospholipids, proteins, and DNA from the adverse effects of ROS (Schieber &Chandel 2014).
In sperm cryopreservation, due to discarding the seminal plasma, sperms lack essential antioxidants that defeat ROS (Kashou et al. 2013), and further oxidative stress develops, which potentiates cryo-induced stress, damage, and subsequent apoptosis (Fraser et al. 2011, Iwasaki &Gagnon 1992, Papas et al. 2019). The cryopreservation of cells promotes the oxidation of phospholipids in the cell membrane, increases intracellular ROS, and thus leads to DNA fragmentation and cell membrane damage (El-Said et al. 2014, Su et al. 2019). This, in turn, compromises the fertility quality of post-thaw sperm. Therefore, supplementation with antioxidants has been applied to prevent ROS, reduce its effect on cell components, and retain the fertility quality of sperm, such as motility and viability (Snezhkina et al. 2019). These antioxidants reduce ROS generation and/or eliminate the generated ROS in the cells of an organism (Liu et al. 2021). Antioxidants play important roles as oxidation inhibitors by scavenging free radicals (Barciszewski et al. 2000). Antioxidant-supplemented sperm showed reduced lipid peroxidation, enabling the plasma membrane to maintain normal physiological and metabolic activity, ultimately resulting in enhanced viability (Alvarez &Storey 1989). Several studies reported the useful effects of antioxidants during semen freezing to minimize the adverse impacts of ROS on spermatozoa has been reported, thereby improving post-thaw quality (Bansal &Bilaspuri 2010, Malo et al. 2010, Qamar et al. 2020, Setyawan et al. 2016, Yoshimoto et al. 2008). However, finding an appropriate species-specific antioxidant is the target of several research groups to alleviate the cryodamage and maintaining functional integrity of spermatozoa during freezing process (Bansal &Bilaspuri 2010). For instance, α-Linoleic acid was shown to suppress ROS generation by stabilizing the plasma membrane during the cryopreservation of boar sperm (Qamar et al. 2020). In canine species, several antioxidants and ROS scavenger supplements were used for sperm cryopreservation, including rosemary and spermine (Setyawan et al. 2016, Vieira et al. 2018).
Interestingly, externalization and translocation of phosphatidylserine (PS) from the inner leaflet of sperm membranes to the external leaflet considers as an early marker of apoptosis in spermatozoa (Martin et al. 2005, Shiratsuchi et al. 1997). ROS production is significantly related to the activity of anti-apoptotic Bcl2 and pro-apoptotic BAX proteins (Setyawan et al. 2016). DNA integrity is also a concern, as cryopreservation alters the properties of the mitochondrial membrane and increases the generation of free radicals that affect DNA oxidation and lead to single- and double-strand DNA breaks (Ahmed &Lingner 2020, Ricci et al. 2002).
Quercetin is a flavonol from the flavonoid group of polyphenols found in many fruits, vegetables, and seeds (Formica &Regelson 1995). Quercetin prevents peroxidation in organisms, displays anti-cancer, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory effects, reduces nanoparticles toxicity, and improves oocyte in vitro maturation (Ezzati et al. 2020, Han et al. 2021, Hussein et al. 2016, Kang et al. 2016, Moodi et al. 2021). Quercetin can scavenge ROS and hydroxyl radicals (Kim et al. 2020), and can modulate the mitochondrial membrane potential by restoring ATP levels, blocking caspase-3, and minimizing DNA unpacking (Bali et al. 2014). Electron transport chain and cytochrome c were reported to be the molecular targets of quercetin, preventing H2O2 production and protecting mitochondrial function and integrity (Carrasco-Pozo et al. 2012, Tanga et al. 2021).
Quercetin supplementation in human sperm caused significant improvements in frozen/thawed spermatozoa motility, viability, and DNA integrity (Zribi et al. 2012). In human and bovine, quercetin was demonstrated to be a ROS scavenging, reduce H2O2 level, and metal-chelating agent that prevented the alterations caused by ROS such as DNA fragmentation and preserved sperm function (Azadi et al. 2017, Diao et al. 2019, Tvrdá et al. 2016). At the molecular level, quercetin acts by reducing ROS levels inside the cell by scavenging free radical species (Russo et al. 2012). In other studies, quercetin was found to inhibit phosphorylation and prevent apoptosis (Moon &Morris 2007). Quercetin can be a pro-oxidative in the long-term uses (Ashida et al. 2000) and its action is dose-dependent, particularly in the cell culture conditions (Fukuda &Ashida 2008). Therefore, determining the optimum concentration and conditions for the use of quercetin is vital for its application.
We hypothesized that supplementing the freezing extender with quercetin could preserve sperm fertility in dogs by reducing free radical production, oxidative stress, and subsequent apoptosis. Therefore, we examined the impacts of supplementing various concentrations of quercetin on ROS, OS, and sperm apoptosis. Furthermore, we carried out some structural and functional tests on sperm to assess the indicators of fertility quality.