Effects of progesterone on sperm function: mechanisms of action

Hum Reprod. 2000 Jun;15 Suppl 1:28-45. doi: 10.1093/humrep/15.suppl_1.28.


Progesterone stimulates sperm functions, e.g. hyperactivation, acrosome reaction, binding to oocyte zona pellucida and penetration rate into the hamster oocyte. The physiological relevance of these effects has been shown using female genital tract fluids which modulate sperm function according to their progesterone content. Progesterone interacts with specific sperm binding sites that, unlike the classic nuclear receptors, are located on the plasma membrane of the spermatozoon. Binding studies have revealed the presence of two classes of progesterone receptors in the human spermatozoon, one class has an elevated affinity constant (nanomolar) and is specific for progesterone, whereas the other class has an affinity constant in the micromolar range and binds equally well other hydroxylated progesterone derivatives. Following exposure to progesterone, the main event is a rapid (within seconds) increase of the intracellular free calcium concentration, followed by a sustained rise lasting for several minutes (plateau phase). Both these calcium transients are dependent upon entry of extracellular calcium. The nature of the calcium channel that mediates the effects of progesterone is, currently, unknown. It has been postulated that it may be: (i) part of the progesterone receptor; (ii) voltage-dependent; or (iii) operated by second messengers following activation of the progesterone receptor. Progesterone also modulates sperm function by stimulating a trypsin-like proteolytic activity, the biosynthesis of polyamine (putrescine and spermidine), phospholipase A2 activity and protein tyrosine kinase activity in the sperm cell. Recent studies have shown that chloride ion efflux is vital for progesterone to promote the acrosome reaction. This effect is achieved by interaction with a sperm membrane receptor which resembles the neuronal GABA(A) receptor. Accordingly, GABA(A) receptors have been found in the spermatozoon plasma membrane and GABA stimulates hyperactivation and promotes the acrosome reaction.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Cricetinae
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Polyamines / metabolism
  • Progesterone / pharmacology
  • Progesterone / physiology*
  • Receptors, GABA-A / metabolism
  • Receptors, Progesterone / metabolism
  • Sodium / metabolism
  • Spermatozoa / drug effects
  • Spermatozoa / physiology*
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / metabolism


  • Polyamines
  • Receptors, GABA-A
  • Receptors, Progesterone
  • Progesterone
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid
  • Sodium
  • Calcium