Properties of a novel pH-dependent Ca2+ permeation pathway present in male germ cells with possible roles in spermatogenesis and mature sperm function

Celia M. Santi, Teresa Santos, Arturo Hernández-Cruz, Alberto Darszon

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61 Scopus citations


Rises of intracellular Ca2+ ([Ca2+](i)) are key signals for cell division, differentiation, and maturation. Similarly, they are likely to be important for the unique processes of meiosis and spermatogenesis, carried out exclusively by male germ cells. In addition, elevations of [Ca2+](i) and intracellular pH (pH(i)) in mature sperm trigger at least two events obligatory for fertilization: capacitation and acrosome reaction. Evidence implicates the activity of Ca2+ channels modulated by pH(i) in the origin of these Ca2+ elevations, but their nature remains unexplored, in part because work in individual spermatozoa are hampered by formidable experimental difficulties. Recently, late spermatogenic cells have emerged as a model system for studying aspects relevant for sperm physiology, such as plasmalemmal ion fluxes. Here we describe the first study on the influence of controlled intracellular alkalinization on [Ca2+](i) on identified spermatogenic cells from mouse adult testes. In BCECF [(2',7')- bis(carboxymethyl)-(5,6)-carboxyfluorescein]-AM-loaded spermatogenic cells, a brief (30-60 s) application of 25 mM NH4Cl increased pH(i) by ~1.3 U from a resting pH(i) ~6.65. A steady pH(i) plateau was maintained during NH4Cl application, with little or no rebound acidification. In fura-2-AM-loaded cells, alkalinization induced a biphasic response composed of an initial [Ca2+](i) drop followed by a two- to threefold rise. Maneuvers that inhibit either Ca2+ influx or intracellular Ca2+ release demonstrated that the majority of the Ca2+ rise results from plasma membrane Ca2+ influx, although a small component likely to result from intracellular Ca2+ release was occasionally observed. Ca2+ transients potentiated with repeated NH4Cl applications, gradually obliterating the initial [Ca2+](i) drop. The pH- sensitive Ca2+ permeation pathway allows the passage of other divalents (Sr2+, Ba2+, and Mn2+) and is blocked by inorganic Ca2+ channel blockers (Ni2+ and Cd2+), but not by the organic blocker nifedipine. The magnitude of these Ca2+ transients increased as maturation advanced, with the largest responses being recorded in testicular sperm. By extrapolation, these findings suggest that the pH-dependent Ca2+ influx pathway could play significant roles in mature sperm physiology. Its pharmacology and ion selectivity suggest that it corresponds to an ion channel different from the voltage-gated T-type Ca2+ channel also present in spermatogenic cells. We postulate that the Ca2+ permeation pathway regulated by pH(i), if present in mature sperm, may be responsible for the dihydropyridine-insensitive Ca2+ influx required for initiating the acrosome reaction and perhaps other important sperm functions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)33-53
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of General Physiology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 1998
Externally publishedYes


  • Calcium entry
  • Calcium signaling
  • Sperm physiology
  • Spermatogenesis
  • pH regulation

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