Intracellular Ca2+ and pH are two key regulators of the ability of sperm to fertilize an egg. Intracellular Ca2+ and pH are controlled in turn by sperm ion channels. Therefore, to understand the molecular mechanisms that control sperm function and male fertility, we need a more thorough understanding of sperm ion channels. Unfortunately, extreme difficulty in applying the patch-clamp technique to sperm cells has hampered our understanding of sperm ion channels and the molecular mechanisms controlling male fertility. We have overcome this barrier and developed a method to apply the whole-cell patch clamp technique to mouse and human spermatozoa. Surprisingly, our patch-clamp experiments revealed significant differences between ion channels in mouse and human spermatozoa. These differences indicate the potential pitfalls of relying on animal models for studying human male fertility and support the need to study these ion channels specifically in human sperm cells. Our long-term objective is to elucidate the mechanisms of ion channel-based signaling that control fertility in human spermatozoa. Here we propose three specific aims to expand our knowledge of sperm ion channels.
In Specific Aim 1, we will identify the physiological regulators of human CatSper and Hv1 channels. We hypothesize that key regulators of sperm activity, such as progesterone, prostaglandins, cholesterol, and cAMP, are likely to mediate their actions on human spermatozoa by regulating CatSper or Hv1 channels. We will use the patch-clamp technique to test the effects of the above mentioned compounds on currents mediated by CatSper and Hv1 channels.
In Specific Aim 2, we will identify the membrane (non- genomic) progesterone receptor of human spermatozoa. Our preliminary results have identified a narrow group of specific proteins as candidates for the sperm progesterone receptor. We will determine which of the candidate proteins serves as a progesterone receptor and will identify its ligand-binding domain for progesterone.
In Specific Aim 3, we will characterize the acrosomal ion channels of human spermatozoa. We will develop a method for applying the patch-clamp technique to the acrosome of human spermatozoa and then use this method to characterize acrosomal Ca2+ channels that are likely to release Ca2+ from the acrosome and to identify the mechanisms that regulate their activity. The knowledge gained from this research will help us to understand the causes of male infertility and to develop new approaches for infertility treatment as well as contraception.

Public Health Relevance

This study will elucidate the molecular mechanisms that control the fertilizing ability of human sperm. The results will help in the development of new treatments for male infertility as well as new methods of male contraception.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD)
Research Project (R01)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Cellular, Molecular and Integrative Reproduction Study Section (CMIR)
Program Officer
Moss, Stuart B
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
University of California San Francisco
Schools of Medicine
San Francisco
United States
Zip Code
Miller, Melissa R; Mannowetz, Nadja; Iavarone, Anthony T et al. (2016) Unconventional endocannabinoid signaling governs sperm activation via the sex hormone progesterone. Science 352:555-9
Lishko, Polina; Clapham, David E; Navarro, Betsy et al. (2013) Sperm patch-clamp. Methods Enzymol 525:59-83
Smith, James F; Syritsyna, Olga; Fellous, Marc et al. (2013) Disruption of the principal, progesterone-activated sperm Ca2+ channel in a CatSper2-deficient infertile patient. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 110:6823-8
Lishko, Polina V; Kirichok, Yuriy; Ren, Dejian et al. (2012) The control of male fertility by spermatozoan ion channels. Annu Rev Physiol 74:453-75
Kirichok, Yuriy; Lishko, Polina V (2011) Rediscovering sperm ion channels with the patch-clamp technique. Mol Hum Reprod 17:478-99