Heat stress dramatically decreases bull sperm quality and has recently received more attention due to the warmer global climate and more intensive production. However, no data exist regarding sperm quality or the related molecular mechanisms under heat stress. Recent studies showed that inducible heat shock proteins (HSPs) play an important role in the dairy heat stress regulation. In this article, to investigate the impacts of heat stress on sperm quality and the associated molecular mechanisms, sperm quality and enzyme activities concerning acrosome reaction were assessed in Simmental, Limousin and Yanbian bulls under heat stress. Subsequently, changes in heat shock protein expression profiles of Simmental bulls were observed, because we observed that sperm quality of these bulls was most sensitive to heat stress. Finally, the relationship between sperm quality and heat shock protein expression under heat stress was analyzed. The results show that summer heat stress decreased the sperm quality of the three bull breeds significantly. Moreover, different levels of heat stimulation induced various enzyme activity changes, among which the activity change in acrosomal enzyme was the most remarkable. Furthermore, the expression of heat shock proteins in the sperm was influenced by the imposed heat stress, among which the expression levels of HSP60 and HSP70 were increased while HSP90 decreased. In summary, our data show that heat stress seriously affects sperm quality and that HSP90 was most sensitive, although it should be noted that seasonal effects may confound these results. This change in heat shock protein expression may be the major factor that affected the sperm quality of the bulls. The findings may provide a new hypothesis for how heat stress impacts reproduction mechanistically.
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