Document Type


Publication Title

Biology Open

Publication Date



Sperm competition, Sperm membrane, Polyunsaturated fatty acids, PUFA, Arachidonic acid, Lipid peroxidation


Sperm competition is a prevalent phenomenon that drives the evolution of sperm function. High levels of sperm competition lead to increased metabolism to fuel higher sperm velocities. This enhanced metabolism can result in oxidative damage (including lipid peroxidation) and damage to the membrane. We hypothesized that in those species experiencing high levels of sperm competition there are changes in the fatty-acid composition of the sperm membrane that makes the membrane more resistant to oxidative damage. Given that polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) are the most prone to lipid peroxidation, we predicted that higher sperm competition leads to a reduction in the proportion of sperm PUFAs. In contrast, we predicted that levels of sperm competition should not affect the proportion of PUFAs in somatic cells. To test these predictions, we quantified the fatty-acid composition of sperm, testis and liver cells in four mouse species (genus Mus) that differ in their levels of sperm competition. Fatty-acid composition in testis and liver cells was not associated to sperm competition levels. However, in sperm cells, as predicted, an increase in sperm competition levels was associated with an increase in the proportion of saturated fatty-acids (the most resistant to lipid peroxidation) and by a concomitant decrease in the proportion of PUFAs. Two particular fatty acids were most responsible for this pattern (arachidonic acid and palmitic acid). Our findings thus indicate that sperm competition has a pervasive influence in the composition of sperm cells that ultimately may have important effects in sperm function.

Funding Source

This work was supported by a Ramo´n y Cajal fellowship from the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness [RYC-2011-07943]; and a Marie Curie Career Integration Grant [PCIG11-GA-2012-321888] to J.d.-T.; and grants from the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness [CGL2011-26341 to E.R.S.R., and CGL2012-37423 to J.d.-T.].


Initially published in Biology Open (2015) 4, 466–473 doi:10.1242/bio.201411288.

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution and reproduction in any medium provided that the original work is properly attributed.



Included in

Biology Commons