Frequency-dependent viscosity of salmon ovarian fluid has biophysical implications for sperm–egg interactions

Marco Graziano, Swomitra Palit, Anand Yethiraj, Simone Immler, Matthew J. G. Gage, Craig F. Purchase

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2 Citations (Scopus)
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Gamete-level sexual selection of externally fertilising species is usually achieved by modifying sperm behaviour with mechanisms that alter the chemical environment in which gametes perform. In fish, this can be accomplished through the ovarian fluid, a substance released with the eggs at spawning. While the biochemical effects of ovarian fluid in relation to sperm energetics have been investigated, the influence of the physical environment in which sperm compete remains poorly explored. Our objective was therefore to gain insights on the physical structure of this fluid and potential impacts on reproduction. Using soft-matter physics approaches of steady-state and oscillatory viscosity measurements, we subjected wild Atlantic salmon ovarian fluids to variable shear stresses and frequencies resembling those exerted by sperm swimming through the fluid near eggs. We show that this fluid, which in its relaxed state is a gel-like substance, displays a non-Newtonian viscoelastic and shear-thinning profile, where the viscosity decreases with increasing shear rates. We concurrently find that this fluid obeys the Cox–Merz rule below 7.6 Hz and infringes it above this level, thus indicating a shear-thickening phase where viscosity increases provided it is probed gently enough. This suggests the presence of a unique frequency-dependent structural network with relevant implications for sperm energetics and fertilisation dynamics.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberjeb244712
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 13 Jan 2023


  • Cryptic female choice
  • Mate choice
  • Non-newtonian fluids
  • Ovarian fluid
  • Sperm competition
  • Viscoelasticity

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