Sialylation of Asparagine 612 Inhibits Aconitase Activity during Mouse Sperm Capacitation; a Possible Mechanism for the Switch from Oxidative Phosphorylation to Glycolysis

Mol Cell Proteomics. 2020 Nov;19(11):1860-1875. doi: 10.1074/mcp.RA120.002109. Epub 2020 Aug 24.


After ejaculation, mammalian spermatozoa must undergo a process known as capacitation in order to successfully fertilize the oocyte. Several post-translational modifications occur during capacitation, including sialylation, which despite being limited to a few proteins, seems to be essential for proper sperm-oocyte interaction. Regardless of its importance, to date, no single study has ever identified nor quantified which glycoproteins bearing terminal sialic acid (Sia) are altered during capacitation. Here we characterize sialylation during mouse sperm capacitation. Using tandem MS coupled with liquid chromatography (LC-MS/MS), we found 142 nonreductant peptides, with 9 of them showing potential modifications on their sialylated oligosaccharides during capacitation. As such, N-linked sialoglycopeptides from C4b-binding protein, endothelial lipase (EL), serine proteases 39 and 52, testis-expressed protein 101 and zonadhesin were reduced following capacitation. In contrast, mitochondrial aconitate hydratase (aconitase; ACO2), a TCA cycle enzyme, was the only protein to show an increase in Sia content during capacitation. Interestingly, although the loss of Sia within EL (N62) was accompanied by a reduction in its phospholipase A1 activity, a decrease in the activity of ACO2 (i.e. stereospecific isomerization of citrate to isocitrate) occurred when sialylation increased (N612). The latter was confirmed by N612D recombinant protein tagged with both His and GFP. The replacement of Sia for the negatively charged Aspartic acid in the N612D mutant caused complete loss of aconitase activity compared with the WT. Computer modeling show that N612 sits atop the catalytic site of ACO2. The introduction of Sia causes a large conformational change in the alpha helix, essentially, distorting the active site, leading to complete loss of function. These findings suggest that the switch from oxidative phosphorylation, over to glycolysis that occurs during capacitation may come about through sialylation of ACO2.

Keywords: LC-MS/MS; aconitase; animal models; biomarker: diagnostic; glycoproteins; glycoproteomics; prognostic; sialic acid; titanium dioxide.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aconitate Hydratase / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Aconitate Hydratase / chemistry
  • Acrosome / enzymology
  • Acrosome / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Asparagine / metabolism*
  • Chromatography, Liquid
  • Glycolysis*
  • Glycoproteins / metabolism
  • HEK293 Cells
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Lipase / metabolism
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Molecular Docking Simulation
  • N-Acetylneuraminic Acid / chemistry
  • N-Acetylneuraminic Acid / metabolism*
  • Oxidative Phosphorylation*
  • Protein Processing, Post-Translational
  • Sperm Capacitation*
  • Spermatozoa / enzymology
  • Spermatozoa / metabolism*
  • Tandem Mass Spectrometry


  • Glycoproteins
  • Asparagine
  • Lipase
  • Lipg protein, mouse
  • Aconitate Hydratase
  • N-Acetylneuraminic Acid