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Biol Reprod. 2002 Jul;67(1):340-50.

Capacitation induces cyclic adenosine 3',5'-monophosphate-dependent, but apoptosis-unrelated, exposure of aminophospholipids at the apical head plasma membrane of boar sperm cells.

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  • 1Institute of Biomembranes, Department of Biochemistry and Cell Biology, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Utrecht University, Yalelaan 2, 3564 CM Utrecht, The Netherlands. b.gadella@vet.uu.nl


The capacitating agent bicarbonate/CO(2) has been shown to induce profound changes in the architecture and dynamics within the sperm's plasma membrane lipid bilayer via a cAMP-dependent protein phosphorylation signaling pathway. Here we have investigated the effect of bicarbonate on surface exposure of endogenous aminophospholipids in boar spermatozoa, detecting phosphatidylserine (PS) with fluorescein-conjugated annexin V and phosphatidylethanolamine (PE) with fluorescein-conjugated streptavidin/biotinylated Ro-09-0198. Flow cytometric analyses revealed that incubation with 15 mM bicarbonate induced 30%-70% of live acrosome-intact cells to expose PE very rapidly; this exposure was closely related to a decrease in lipid packing order as detected by enhanced binding of merocyanine 540. PS exposure was detectable in the same proportion of cells, though its expression was slower. Confocal microscopy revealed that exposure of aminophospholipids in intact cells was restricted to the anterior acrosomal region of the head plasma membrane. Aminophospholipid exposure, merocyanine stainability, and a subsequent migration of cholesterol to the apical region of the head plasma membrane, were all under the control of the cAMP-dependent protein phosphorylation pathway. The close coupling of decreased lipid packing order with exposure of PE led us to conclude that bicarbonate was inducing phospholipid scrambling (i.e., collapse of asymmetric transverse distribution), and that the scrambling was a prerequisite for cholesterol relocation. There was no evidence whatever that the bicarbonate-induced scrambling was an apoptotic process. It was not accompanied by major loss of viability or by DNA degeneration or by loss of mitochondrial function, and it could not be blocked by the broad-specificity caspase inhibitors zVAD-fmk and BocD-fmk. In the absence of bicarbonate, scrambling could not be induced by the apoptotic agents UV, staurosporine, or cycloheximide. Bicarbonate-induced phospholipid scrambling thus appears to be an important and early physiological event in the capacitation process.

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