The importance of zinc for male fertility only emerged recently, being propelled in part by consumer interest in nutritional supplements containing ionic trace minerals. Here, we review the properties, biological roles and cellular mechanisms that are relevant to zinc function in the male reproductive system, survey available peer-reviewed data on nutritional zinc supplementation for fertility improvement in livestock animals and infertility therapy in men, and discuss the recently discovered signaling pathways involving zinc in sperm maturation and fertilization. Emphasis is on the zinc-interacting sperm proteome and its involvement in the regulation of sperm structure and function, from spermatogenesis and epididymal sperm maturation to sperm interactions with the female reproductive tract, capacitation, fertilization, and embryo development. Merits of dietary zinc supplementation and zinc inclusion into semen processing media are considered with livestock artificial insemination (AI) and human assisted reproductive therapy (ART) in mind. Collectively, the currently available data underline the importance of zinc ions for male fertility, which could be harnessed to improve human reproductive health and reproductive efficiency in agriculturally important livestock species. Further research will advance the field of sperm and fertilization biology, provide new research tools, and ultimately optimize semen processing procedures for human infertility therapy and livestock AI.
Keywords: capacitation; fertility; fertilization; proteasome; sperm; zinc.