Ion channels in sperm physiology

Physiol Rev. 1999 Apr;79(2):481-510. doi: 10.1152/physrev.1999.79.2.481.


Fertilization is a matter of life or death. In animals of sexual reproduction, the appropriate communication between mature and competent male and female gametes determines the generation of a new individual. Ion channels are key elements in the dialogue between sperm, its environment, and the egg. Components from the outer layer of the egg induce ion permeability changes in sperm that regulate sperm motility, chemotaxis, and the acrosome reaction. Sperm are tiny differentiated terminal cells unable to synthesize protein and difficult to study electrophysiologically. Thus understanding how sperm ion channels participate in fertilization requires combining planar bilayer techniques, in vivo measurements of membrane potential, intracellular Ca2+ and intracellular pH using fluorescent probes, patch-clamp recordings, and molecular cloning and heterologous expression. Spermatogenic cells are larger than sperm and synthesize the ion channels that will end up in mature sperm. Correlating the presence and cellular distribution of various ion channels with their functional status at different stages of spermatogenesis is contributing to understand their participation in differentiation and in sperm physiology. The multi-faceted approach being used to unravel sperm ion channel function and regulation is yielding valuable information about the finely orchestrated events that lead to sperm activation, induction of the acrosome reaction, and in the end to the miracle of life.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acrosome Reaction / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Ion Channels / physiology*
  • Male
  • Spermatozoa / chemistry*
  • Spermatozoa / physiology*


  • Ion Channels