A novel copy number variation in CATSPER2 causes idiopathic male infertility with normal semen parameters

Hum Reprod. 2019 Mar 1;34(3):414-423. doi: 10.1093/humrep/dey377.


Study question: Are genetic abnormalities in CATSPER (cation channel of sperm) genes associated with idiopathic male infertility with normal semen parameters and, if so, how do they affect male fertility?

Summary answer: A novel copy number variation (CNV) in CATSPER2 causes idiopathic male infertility with normal semen parameters by disrupting the ability of sperm to penetrate viscous media, undergo hyperactivation and respond to progesterone.

What is known already: CATSPER is the principle Ca2+ channel mediating extracellular Ca2+ influx into spermatozoa. Although several case reports have suggested a causal relationship between CATSPER disruption and human male infertility, whether genetic abnormalities in CATSPER genes are associated with idiopathic male infertility with normal semen parameters remains unclear.

Study design, size, duration: Spermatozoa were obtained from men attending the reproductive medical center at Jiangxi Provincial Maternal and Child Health Hospital, Nanchang, Jiangxi, China between January 2014 and June 2016. In total, 120 men from infertile couples and 20 healthy male donors were selected to take part in the study, based on their normal semen parameters.

Participants/materials, setting, methods: CATSPER and KSPER currents were assessed using the whole-cell patch-clamp technique. Whole-genome sequencing and TaqMan® CNV assays were performed to identify genetic variations. The expression levels of genes encoding the CATSPER complex were measured by quantitative real-time PCR and Western blot. Sperm motion characteristics and hyperactivation were examined with a computer-aided sperm analysis (CASA) system. Sperm responses to progesterone, assessed as increases in CATSPER current and intercellular Ca2+ concentrations ([Ca2+]i), as well as inducement of penetration ability and acrosome reaction, were examined by means of whole-cell patch-clamp technique, single-sperm [Ca2+]i imaging, penetration into methylcellulose assay and chlortetracycline staining, respectively.

Main results and the role of chance: An infertile man with complete disruption of CATSPER current was identified. This individual has a novel CNV which disrupts one gene copy in the region 43894500-43950000 in chromosome 15 (GRCh37.p13 Primary Assembly, nsv3067119), containing the whole DNA sequence of CATSPER2. This CNV affected the expression of CATSPER2, resulting in dramatically reduced levels of CATSPER2 proteins in the individual's spermatozoa. Although this individual exhibited normal semen parameters, his spermatozoa showed impaired penetration ability, deficient hyperactivation, and did not respond to progesterone, in terms of monovalent current potentiation, [Ca2+]i increase, penetration ability enhancement and acrosome reaction inducement, which may explain the individual's idiopathic infertility.

Large scale data: N/A.

Limitations, reasons for caution: Our novel findings require more cases to support the CATSPER2 CNV identified in this study as a common cause of idiopathic male infertility in patients with normal semen parameters. Therefore, caution must be taken when extrapolating the use of this CNV as a potential biomarker for idiopathic male infertility.

Wider implications of the findings: The findings from the unique human CATSPER 'knockout' model in this study not only confirm the essential roles of CATSPER in mediating progesterone response and regulating hyperactivation in human spermatozoa but also reveal that disruption of CATSPER current is a significant factor causing idiopathic male infertility.

Study funding/competing interest(s): This study was funded by National Natural Science Foundation of China (81771644 and 31400996 to T.L.; 31230034 to X.Z.); National Basic Research Program of China (973 Program, 2015CB943003 to X.Z.); National Key Research and Development Program of China (2016YFC1000905 to T.L.); Natural Science Foundation of Jiangxi, China (20121BBG70021 and GJJ12015 to X.Z.; 20161BAB204167 and 20171ACB21006 to T.L.) and the open project of National Population and Family Planning Key Laboratory of Contraceptives and Devices Research (No. 2016KF07 to T.L.). The authors have no conflicts of interest to declare.

Keywords: CATSPER2; copy number variation; idiopathic male infertility; progesterone response; whole-genome sequencing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acrosome Reaction
  • Adult
  • Calcium Channels / genetics*
  • Calcium Signaling
  • Cell Proliferation
  • DNA Copy Number Variations*
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Infertility, Male / genetics*
  • Male
  • Patch-Clamp Techniques
  • Progesterone / physiology*
  • Semen / physiology*
  • Semen Analysis
  • Seminal Plasma Proteins / genetics*
  • Sperm Motility
  • Spermatozoa / physiology*
  • Viscosity
  • Whole Genome Sequencing


  • CATSPER2 protein, human
  • Calcium Channels
  • Seminal Plasma Proteins
  • Progesterone