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Effect of feeding corn silage on semen quality and spermatogenesis of bulls

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Bovine reproduction, including male fertility traits like semen quality, are influenced by a variety of different factors like breed, nutrition, environment, and feeding management. Diet in a crucial determinant, and in this regard although corn silage is generally considered to be a favorable roughage for fattening meat type breeds, it tends to have a negative impact on semen quality. In the current study, alfalfa hay was substituted by corn silage as a roughage source in the diet of bulls to investigate its effects on the fertility of breeding bulls. A feeding trail spanning 140 days was conducted, with semen collection occurring twice a week commencing 60 days after the start of trial. Semen quality parameters, serum antioxidant indexes, sex hormone content in semen, rumen microflora, and sperm transcriptome were characterized. Feeding corn silage enhanced host antioxidant capacity, significantly decreased spermatozoal motility and increased sperm deformity rate in bulls. Furthermore, follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH) content in semen were significantly decreased (P < 0.05), and the inhibin B (INHB) content was significantly increased (P < 0.01). Feeding corn silage led to significant changes in the diversity of rumen microbiota of cattle at the phylum and genus levels, some of which were significantly correlated with semen quality. Subsequent RNA sequencing indicated that DHH and PITHD1, two genes related to sperm and reproductive development, were differentially expressed, and enrichment analysis also identified several pathways and biological functions relevant to sperm development and reproduction. These results indicate that feeding corn silage modulates semen quality via different pathways. Firstly, corn silage metabolites likely affect the secretion of INHB through the testicular capillaries, which affects semen quality by regulating genes involved in spermatogenesis. Secondly, low lignin content in silage corn appears to reduce abundance of rumen flora that are positively correlated with semen quality. Overall, results indicate that feeding bulls corn silage as the primary source of forage could negatively impact semen quality and may not be appropriate as the primary roughage of forage for breeding bulls.

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This work was supported by the National Beef and Yak Industrial Technology System (grant numbers CARS-37), Key Research and Development Program of Shaanxi Province (grant numbers 2022NY-050, 2022ZDLNY01-01), National Natural Science Foundation of China (grant numbers 31972994), Special Project for the Central Government to Guide Local Science and Technology Development (grant numbers 2060404-51301).

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Dianqi Zhang drafted the manuscript and analyzed the experimental data. Sayed Haidar Abbas Raza Data curation, Formal analysis, Investigation, Visualization Writing - review & editing. Xinze Du designed the experimental ideas and fed animals. Meng Wang, Kuncheng Xie, Jie He, Juze Wang participated in the collection of experimental samples. Dianqi Zhang, Xinze Du, and Meng Wang completed in the experiment. Dianqi Zhang and Jing Ma Chugang Mei Data curation, Formal analysis, Investigation completed the manuscript. Sameer Pant and Bander Hamad Aloufi assisted in the Investigation, Visualization Writing-review and editing, and Linsen Zan participated in the management and supervision of the project. All authors have read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Linsen Zan.

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Zhang, D., Raza, S.H.A., Du, X. et al. Effect of feeding corn silage on semen quality and spermatogenesis of bulls. Vet Res Commun (2023).

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