Protamines and male infertility

Hum Reprod Update. Jul-Aug 2006;12(4):417-35. doi: 10.1093/humupd/dml009. Epub 2006 Mar 31.


Protamines are the major nuclear sperm proteins. The human sperm nucleus contains two types of protamine: protamine 1 (P1) encoded by a single-copy gene and the family of protamine 2 (P2) proteins (P2, P3 and P4), all also encoded by a single gene that is transcribed and translated into a precursor protein. The protamines were discovered more than a century ago, but their function is not yet fully understood. In fact, different hypotheses have been proposed: condensation of the sperm nucleus into a compact hydrodynamic shape, protection of the genetic message delivered by the spermatozoa, involvement in the processes maintaining the integrity and repair of DNA during or after the nucleohistone-nucleoprotamine transition and involvement in the epigenetic imprinting of the spermatozoa. Protamines are also one of the most variable proteins found in nature, with data supporting a positive Darwinian selection. Changes in the expression of P1 and P2 protamines have been found to be associated with infertility in man. Mutations in the protamine genes have also been found in some infertile patients. Transgenic mice defective in the expression of protamines also present several structural defects in the sperm nucleus and have variable degrees of infertility. There is also evidence that altered levels of protamines may result in an increased susceptibility to injury in the spermatozoan DNA causing infertility or poor outcomes in assisted reproduction. The present work reviews the articles published to date on the relationship between protamines and infertility.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Cell Nucleus / genetics
  • Chromatin / diagnostic imaging
  • Chromatin / genetics
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Humans
  • Infertility, Male / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Mutation
  • Polymorphism, Genetic
  • Protamines / genetics*
  • Protamines / immunology
  • Protamines / metabolism*
  • Spermatozoa / pathology
  • Spermatozoa / physiology*
  • Transgenes
  • Ultrasonography


  • Chromatin
  • Protamines