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Abstract

The fallopian tube, or oviduct, is no longer considered merely a conduit that joins the uterine horns and the ovaries, being recognised as a venue for the capacitation of spermatozoa and fertilisation. However, recent evidence has implicated the oviduct in the stringent selection of spermatozoa prior to fertilisation, sperm storage prior to fertilisation, the regulation of sperm motility and possibly the guidance of spermatozoa towards the egg. Moreover, the arrival of spermatozoa within the oviduct is now known to regulate gene expression in oviductal epithelial cells with the consequent up- and downregulation of various proteins. In this review, we examine the emerging significance of sperm–oviduct interactions, as they relate to both physiological functions and the likelihood that the oviduct has a role in post-copulatory sperm selection by females (cryptic female choice) under conditions of sperm competition. The mechanisms by which sperm selection might operate still remain a mystery, especially when the underlying rationale for such mechanism appears to require the recognition by the female tract of sperm qualities related to the intrinsic integrity and information content of the sperm DNA. The oviduct not only selects against spermatozoa containing fragmented DNA but also imposes selection related to the fitness or quality of individual males. This implies the existence of, as yet unrecognised, mechanisms for the detection and interpretation of sperm-surface markers that link phenotypic and genotypic qualities of each individual cell. Mol. Reprod. Dev. 77:934–943, 2010. © 2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc.