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Review: Testicular vascular cone development and its association with scrotal thermoregulation, semen quality and sperm production in bulls

  • J. P. Kastelic (a1), G. Rizzoto (a1) and J. Thundathil (a1)

Several structural and functional features keep bull testes 2°C to 6°C below body temperature, essential for the production of morphologically normal, motile and fertile sperm. The testicular vascular cone (TVC), located above the testis, consists of a highly coiled testicular artery surrounded by a complex network of small veins (pampiniform plexus). The TVC functions as a counter-current heat exchanger to transfer heat from the testicular artery to the testicular vein, cooling blood before it enters the testis. Bulls with increased TVC diameter or decreased distance between arterial and venous blood, have a greater percentage of morphologically normal sperm. Both the scrotum and testes are warmest at the origin of their blood supply (top of scrotum and bottom of testis), but they are cooler distal to that point. In situ, these opposing temperature gradients result in a nearly uniform testicular temperature (top to bottom), cooler than body temperature. The major source of testicular heat is blood flow, not testicular metabolism. High ambient temperatures have less deleterious effects on spermatogenesis in Bos indicus v. Bos taurus bulls; differences in TVC morphology in B. indicus bulls confer a better testicular blood supply and promote heat transfer. There is a long-standing paradigm that testes operate on the brink of hypoxia, increased testicular temperature does not increase blood flow, and the resulting hypoxia reduces morphologically normal and motile sperm following testicular hyperthermia. However, in recent studies in rams, either systemic hypoxia or increased testicular temperature increased testicular blood flow and there were sufficient increases in oxygen uptake to prevent tissue hypoxia. Therefore, effects of increased testicular temperature were attributed to testicular temperature per se and not to secondary hypoxia. There are many causes of increased testicular temperature, including high ambient temperatures, fever, increased recumbency, high-energy diets, or experimental insulation of the scrotum or the scrotal neck. It is well known that increased testicular temperatures have adverse effects on spermatogenesis. Heat affects all germ cells and all stages of spermatogenesis, with substantial increases in temperature and/or extended intervals of increased testicular temperature having the most profound effects. Increased testicular temperature has adverse effects on percentages of motile, live and morphologically normal sperm. In particular, increased testicular temperature increases the percentage of sperm with abnormal morphology, particularly head defects. Despite differences among bulls in the kind and percentage of abnormal sperm, the interval from increased testicular temperature to the emergence of specific sperm defects is consistent and predictable. Scrotal surface temperatures and structural characteristics of the testis and TVC can be assessed with IR thermography and ultrasonography, respectively.

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