Modifications in rabbit sperm plasma membranes during epididymal passage and after ejaculation were investigated by used of three lectins: concanavalin A (Con A); Ricinus communis I (RCA(I)); and wheat germ agglutinin (WGA). During sperm passage from caput to cauda epididymis, agglutination by WGA drastically decreased, and agglutination by RCA(I) slightly decreased, although agglutination by Con A remained approximately unchanged. After ejaculation, spermatozoa were agglutinated to a similar degree or slightly less by Con A, WGA, and RCA(I), compared to cauda epididymal spermatozoa. Ultrastructural examination of sperm lectin-binding sites with ferritin- lectin conjugates revealed differences in the densities of lectin receptors in various sperm regions, and changes in the same regions during epididymal passage and after ejaculation. Ferritin-RCA(I) showed abrupt changes in lectin site densities between acrosomal and postacrosomal regions of sperm heads. The relative amounts of ferritin-RCA(I) bound to heads of caput epididymal or ejaculated spermatozoa. Tail regions were labeled by ferritin RCA(I) almost equally on caput and cauda epididymal spermatozoa, but the middle-piece region of ejaculated spermatozoa was slightly more densely labeled than the principal-piece region, and these two regions on ejaculated spermatozoa were labeled less than on caput and cuada epididymal spermatozoa. Ferritin-WGA densely labeled the acrosomal region of caput epididymal spermatozoa, although labeling of cauda epidiymal spermatozoa was relatively sparse except in the apical area of the acrosomal region. Ejaculated spermatozoa bound only a few molecules of ferritin-WGA, even at the highest conjugate concentrations used. Caput epididymal, but not cauda epididymal or ejaculated spermatozoa, bound ferritin-WGA in the tail regions. Dramatic differences in labeling densities during epididymal passage and after ejaculation were not found with ferritin-Con A.

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