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Volume 13, Issue 3 (May 2011) 13, 395–405; 10.1038/aja.2010.69

Ion channels, phosphorylation and mammalian sperm capacitation

Pablo E Visconti1, Dario Krapf2, José Luis de la Vega-Beltrán3, Juan José Acevedo4 and Alberto Darszon3

1 Department of Veterinary and Animal Science, Paige Labs, University of Massachusets, Amherst MA 01003, USA
2 Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology of Rosario (CONICET-UNR) and Área Biología, Facultad de Ciencias Biológicas y Farmacéuticas, UNR, Rosario 2000, Argentina
3 Departamento de Genética del Desarrollo y Fisiología Molecular, Instituto de Biotecnología, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), Cuernavaca, Morelos, C.P. 62510, México
4 Departamento de Fisiología y Farmacología, Facultad de Medicina, Universidad Autónoma del Estado de Morelos, Cuernavaca, C.P. 62510, México

Correspondence: Dr A Darszon, (darszon@ibt.unam.mx)

Received 21 January 2011; Revised 11 March 2011; Accepted 14 March 2011.


Sexually reproducing animals require an orchestrated communication between spermatozoa and the egg to generate a new individual. Capacitation, a maturational complex phenomenon that occurs in the female reproductive tract, renders spermatozoa capable of binding and fusing with the oocyte, and it is a requirement for mammalian fertilization. Capacitation encompasses plasma membrane reorganization, ion permeability regulation, cholesterol loss and changes in the phosphorylation state of many proteins. Novel tools to study sperm ion channels, image intracellular ionic changes and proteins with better spatial and temporal resolution, are unraveling how modifications in sperm ion transport and phosphorylation states lead to capacitation. Recent evidence indicates that two parallel pathways regulate phosphorylation events leading to capacitation, one of them requiring activation of protein kinase A and the second one involving inactivation of ser/thr phosphatases. This review examines the involvement of ion transporters and phosphorylation signaling processes needed for spermatozoa to achieve capacitation. Understanding the molecular mechanisms leading to fertilization is central for societies to deal with rising male infertility rates, to develop safe male gamete-based contraceptives and to preserve biodiversity through better assisted fertilization strategies.

Keywords: capacitation; ion channels; lipids; phosphorylation; sperm

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