High-throughput droplet vitrification of stallion sperm using permeating cryoprotective agents
Stallion sperm is typically cryopreserved using low cooling rates and low concentrations of cryoprotective agents (CPAs). The inevitable water-to-ice phase transition during cryopreservation is damaging and can be prevented using vitrification. Vitrification requires high cooling rates and high CPA concentrations. In this study, the feasibility of stallion sperm vitrification was investigated. A dual-syringe pump system was used to mix sperm equilibrated in a solution with a low concentration of CPAs, with a solution containing a high CPA concentration, and to generate droplets of a defined size (i.e., ~20 μL) that were subsequently cooled by depositing on an aluminum alloy block placed in liquid nitrogen. Mathematical modeling was performed to compute the heat transfer and rate of cooling. The minimum CPA concentration needed for vitrification was determined for various CPAs (glycerol, ethylene glycol, propylene glycol, dimethyl sulfoxide) and combinations thereof, while effects of droplet size and carrier solution were also identified. Sperm vitrification was eventually done using a glycerol/propylene glycol (1/1) mixture at a final concentration of 45% in buffered saline supplemented with 3% albumin and polyvinylpyrrolidon, while warming was done in standard diluent supplemented with 100 mM sucrose. The sperm concentration was found to greatly affect sperm membrane integrity after vitrification-and-warming, i.e., was found to be 21 ± 12% for 10 × 106 sperm mL-1 and 54 ± 8% for 1 × 106 sperm mL-1. However, an almost complete loss of sperm motility was observed. In conclusion, successful sperm vitrification requires establishing the narrow balance between droplet size, sperm concentration, CPA type and concentration, and exposure time.