Zinc (Zn(2+)) has been recently recognized as a crucial element for male gamete function in many species although its detailed mechanism of action is poorly understood. In sea urchin spermatozoa, Zn(2+) was reported as an essential trace ion for efficient sperm motility initiation and the acrosome reaction by modulating intracellular pH (pHi). In this study we found that submicromolar concentrations of free Zn(2+) change membrane potential (Em) and increase the concentration of intracellular Ca(2+) ([Ca(2+)]i) and cAMP in Lytechinus pictus sperm. Our results indicate that the Zn(2+) response in sperm of this species mainly involves an Em hyperpolarization caused by K(+) channel activation. The pharmacological profile of the Zn(2+)-induced hyperpolarization indicates that the cGMP-gated K(+) selective channel (tetraKCNG/CNGK), which is crucial for speract signaling, is likely a main target for Zn(2+). Considering that Zn(2+) also induces [Ca(2+)]i fluctuations, our observations suggest that Zn(2+) activates the signaling cascade of speract, except for an increase in cGMP, and facilitates sperm motility initiation upon spawning. These findings provide new insights about the role of Zn(2+) in male gamete function.
Keywords: Calcium; Membrane potential; Potassium channels; Zinc; cAMP; pH.
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