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Annu Rev Physiol. 2012;74:453-75. doi: 10.1146/annurev-physiol-020911-153258. Epub 2011 Oct 13.

The control of male fertility by spermatozoan ion channels.

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Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, University of California, Berkeley, California 94720, USA.


Ion channels control the sperm ability to fertilize the egg by regulating sperm maturation in the female reproductive tract and by triggering key sperm physiological responses required for successful fertilization such as hyperactivated motility, chemotaxis, and the acrosome reaction. CatSper, a pH-regulated, calcium-selective ion channel, and KSper (Slo3) are core regulators of sperm tail calcium entry and sperm hyperactivated motility. Many other channels had been proposed as regulating sperm activity without direct measurements. With the development of the sperm patch-clamp technique, CatSper and KSper have been confirmed as the primary spermatozoan ion channels. In addition, the voltage-gated proton channel Hv1 has been identified in human sperm tail, and the P2X2 ion channel has been identified in the midpiece of mouse sperm. Mutations and deletions in sperm-specific ion channels affect male fertility in both mice and humans without affecting other physiological functions. The uniqueness of sperm ion channels makes them ideal pharmaceutical targets for contraception. In this review we discuss how ion channels regulate sperm physiology.

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