1. Structural Biology and Molecular Biophysics
  2. Cell Biology
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Ion Channels: Sperm BerserKers

  1. David E Clapham  Is a corresponding author
  1. Boston Children’s Hospital, United States
Cite this article as: eLife 2013;2:e01469 doi: 10.7554/eLife.01469
1 figure


Ion channels work together to ensure that sperm cells are hyperactivated.

Sperm cells contain a variety of ion channels that control the movement of ions and protons (H+) into and out of the cell (Mannowetz et al., 2013). As a sperm cell moves up the fallopian tube, the CatSper ion channel (right), which controls the movement of calcium ions (Ca2+), is partially activated as a result of alkalinization inside the cell (caused by protons leaving through the Hv1 ion channel) and low levels of progesterone outside the cell. As the sperm gets closer to the egg, the increased levels of progesterone inhibit the Slo1 ion channel, causing potassium ions (K+) to leave the cell. This hyperpolarizes the cell membrane and leads to full activation of the CatSper ion channel. The resulting influx of large numbers of calcium ions leads to hyperactivation of the sperm—the vigorous tail thrashing motion that is a prerequisite of fertilization. Protons and calcium ion can also move through the Ca2+ ATPase transporter (left).

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