Oestrogenic metabolite equol negatively impacts the functionality of ram spermatozoa in vitro

Kelsey Rhian Pool, Tayler Catherine Kent, Dominique Blache

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Oestrogenic pastures are known to cause infertility in the ewe, due primarily to the oestrogen-like actions of the metabolite equol. Despite strong evidence that phytoestrogens and their metabolites compromise male reproductive function in many other species, there is little information concerning the effect of oestrogenic pastures on ram sperm quality and function. To investigate this, ram spermatozoa were exposed in vitro to physiologically relevant concentrations of either 0, 0.001, 0.01, 0.1 and 1 μM equol and incubated over 6 h. Sperm motility, viability, DNA integrity, membrane lipid disorder, mitochondrial superoxide production, lipid peroxidation and intracellular reactive oxygen species were assessed via computer assisted sperm analysis and flow cytometry at 0.5, 3 and 6 h post-equol exposure. Whilst sperm viability was decreased only at 1 μM equol at 0.5 h post-exposure, exposure to equol at concentrations of 0.1 and 1 μM reduced sperm total and progressive motility (P < 0.001), increased sperm membrane fluidity (P < 0.001), increased mitochondrial superoxide production (P < 0.001) and promoted lipid peroxidation (P < 0.001) across all timepoints. At 6 h post-exposure to 0.1 and 1 μM equol, DNA fragmentation was greater compared that of non-exposed spermatozoa (P = 0.045). Intracellular reactive oxygen species did not change between treatment groups throughout the study (P > 0.05). It is concluded that even low concentrations of equol negatively impact the functionality of ram spermatozoa, these effects likely driven through increased mitochondrial superoxide production. This work indicates that equol may exert oestrogen-like actions upon ram spermatozoa, bringing into question as to whether oestrogenic pastures could influence ram fertility.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)216-222
Number of pages7
Publication statusPublished - 15 Sept 2021


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