Rediscovering sperm ion channels with the patch-clamp technique

Yuriy Kirichok, Polina V. Lishko

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

75 Scopus citations


Upon ejaculation, mammalian spermatozoa have to undergo a sequence of physiological transformations within the female reproductive tract that will allow them to reach and fertilize the egg. These include initiation of motility, hyperactivation of motility and perhaps chemotaxis toward the egg, and culminate in the acrosome reaction that permits sperm to penetrate the protective vestments of the egg. These physiological responses are triggered through the activation of sperm ion channels that cause elevations of sperm intracellular pH and Ca2+ in response to certain cues within the female reproductive tract. Despite their key role in sperm physiology and their absolute requirement for the process of fertilization, sperm ion channels remain poorly understood due to the extreme difficulty in application of the patch-clamp technique to spermatozoa. This review covers the topic of sperm ion channels in the following order: first, we discuss how the intracellular Ca2+ and pH signaling mediated by sperm ion channels controls sperm behavior during the process of fertilization. Then, we briefly cover the history of the methodology to study sperm ion channels, which culminated in the recent development of a reproducible whole-cell patch-clamp technique for mouse and human cells. We further discuss the main approaches used to patch-clamp mature mouse and human spermatozoa. Finally, we focus on the newly discovered sperm ion channels CatSper, KSper (Slo3) and HSper (Hv1), identified by the sperm patch-clamp technique. We conclude that the patch-clamp technique has markedly improved and shifted our understanding of the sperm ion channels, in addition to revealing significant species-specific differences in these channels. This method is critical for identification of the molecular mechanisms that control sperm behavior within the female reproductive tract and make fertilization possible.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)478-499
Number of pages22
JournalMolecular human reproduction
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 8 2011


  • Ca
  • H
  • K ion channels
  • Sperm motility
  • acrosome reaction
  • hyperactivation
  • patch clamp


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