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Sex selection through sperm sorting offers advantages in regards selection pressure in high-producing livestock. However, the sex-sorting process results in sperm membrane and DNA damage that ultimately decrease fertility. We hypothesized that given the role of protamines in DNA packaging, protamine deficiency could account, at least partially, for the DNA damage observed following sperm sex sorting. To test this, we compared protamine status between unsexed and sexed spermatozoa from two bulls using the fluorochrome chromomycin A3 (CMA3) and flow cytometry. Then, we assessed embryo development following in vitro fertilization (IVF) using the same sperm treatments. Overall, sperm protamination was not different between sexed and unsexed semen. However, one of the two bulls displayed higher rates of protamine deficiency for both unsexed and sexed semen (P < 0.05). Moreover, unsexed semen from this bull yielded lower blastocyst (P < 0.05) and blastocyst hatching rates than unsexed sperm from the other bull. CMA3-positive staining was negatively correlated with cleavage (R2 85.1, P = 0.003) and blastocyst hatching (R2 87.6, P = 0.006) rates in unsexed semen. In conclusion, while the sex-sorting process had no effect on sperm protamine content, we observed a bull effect for sperm protamination, which correlated to embryo development rates following IVF.
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