Kinases, phosphatases and proteases during sperm capacitation

Cell Tissue Res. 2012 Sep;349(3):765-82. doi: 10.1007/s00441-012-1370-3. Epub 2012 Mar 20.


Fertilization is the process by which male and female haploid gametes (sperm and egg) unite to produce a genetically distinct individual. In mammals, fertilization involves a number of sequential steps, including sperm migration through the female genital tract, sperm penetration through the cumulus mass, sperm adhesion and binding to the zona pellucida, acrosome exocytosis, sperm penetration through the zona and fusion of the sperm and egg plasma membranes. However, freshly ejaculated sperm are not capable of fertilizing an oocyte. They must first undergo a series of biochemical and physiological changes, collectively known as capacitation, before acquiring fertilizing capabilities. Several molecules are required for successful capacitation and in vitro fertilization; these include bicarbonate, serum albumin (normally bovine serum albumin, BSA) and Ca(2+). Bicarbonate activates the sperm protein soluble adenylyl cyclase (SACY), which results in increased levels of cAMP and cAMP-dependent protein kinase (PKA) activation. The response to bicarbonate is fast and cAMP levels increase within 60 s followed by an increase in PKA activity. Several studies with an anti-phospho-PKA substrate antibody have demonstrated a rapid increase in protein phosphorylation in human, mouse and boar sperm. The target proteins of PKA are not known and the precise role of BSA during capacitation is unclear. Most of the studies provide support for the idea that BSA acts by removing cholesterol from the sperm. The loss of cholesterol has been suggested to affect the bilayer of the sperm plasma membrane making it more fusogenic. The relationship between cholesterol loss and the activation of the cAMP/PKA pathway is also unclear. During early stages of capacitation, Ca(2+) might be involved in the stimulation of SACY, although definitive proof is lacking. Protein tyrosine phosphorylation is another landmark of capacitation but occurs during the late stages of capacitation on a different time-scale from cAMP/PKA activation. Additionally, the tyrosine kinases present in sperm are not well characterized. Although protein phosphorylation depends upon the balanced action of protein kinases and protein phosphatase, we have even less information regarding the role of protein phosphatases during sperm capacitation. Over the last few years, several reports have pointed out that the ubiquitin-proteasome system might play a role during sperm capacitation, acrosome reaction and/or sperm-egg fusion. In the present review, we summarize the information regarding the role of protein kinases, phosphatases and the proteasome during sperm capacitation. Where appropriate, we give examples of the way that these molecules interact and regulate each other's activities.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acrosome Reaction / physiology
  • Animals
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Peptide Hydrolases / metabolism*
  • Phosphoric Monoester Hydrolases / metabolism*
  • Protein Kinases / metabolism*
  • Sperm Capacitation / physiology*
  • Spermatozoa / enzymology*


  • Protein Kinases
  • Phosphoric Monoester Hydrolases
  • Peptide Hydrolases