Bioconjugated Gold Nanoparticles Penetrate Into Spermatozoa Depending on Plasma Membrane Status
Spermatozoa are not only essential for animal reproduction they also represent important tools for the manipulation of animal genetics. For instance, the genetic labeling and analysis of spermatozoa could provide a prospective complementation of pre-fertilization diagnosis and could help to prevent the inheritance of defective alleles during artificial insemination or to select beneficial traits in livestock. Spermatozoa feature extremely specialized membrane organization and restricted transport mechanisms making the labeling of genetically interesting DNA-sequences, e.g., with gold nanoparticles, a particular challenge. Here, we present a systematic study on the size-related internalization of ligand-free, monovalent and bivalent polydisperse gold nanoparticles, depending on spermatozoa membrane status. While monovalent conjugates were coupled solely to either negatively-charged oligonucleotides or positively-charged cell-penetrating peptides, bivalent conjugates were functionalized with both molecules simultaneously. The results clearly indicate that the cell membrane of acrosome-intact, bovine spermatozoa was neither permeable to ligand-free or oligonucleotide-conjugated nanoparticles, nor responsive to the mechanisms of cell-penetrating peptides. Interestingly, after acrosome reaction, which comprises major changes in sperm membrane composition, fluidity and charge, high numbers of monovalent and bivalent nanoparticles were found in the postequatorial segment, depicting a close and complex correlation between particle internalization and membrane organization. Additionally, depending on the applied peptide and for nanoparticle sizes <10 nm even a successive nuclear penetration was observed, making the bivalent conjugates promising for future genetic delivery and sorting issues.