To fertilize an oocyte, sperm must undergo several biochemical and functional changes known as capacitation. A key event in capacitation is calcium influx through the cation channel of sperm (CatSper). However, the molecular mechanisms of capacitation downstream of this calcium influx are not completely understood. Capacitation is also associated with an increase in mitochondrial oxygen consumption, and several lines of evidence indicate that regulated calcium entry into mitochondria increases the efficiency of oxidative respiration. Thus, we hypothesized that calcium influx through CatSper during capacitation increases mitochondrial calcium concentration and mitochondrial efficiency and thereby contributes to sperm hyperactivation and fertilization capacity. To test this hypothesis, we used high-resolution respirometry to measure mouse sperm mitochondrial activity. We also measured mitochondrial membrane potential, ATP/ADP exchange during capacitation, and mitochondrial calcium concentration in sperm from wild-type and CatSper knockout mice. We show that the increase in mitochondrial activity in capacitated wild-type sperm parallels the increase in mitochondrial calcium concentration. This effect is blunted in sperm from CatSper knockout mice. Importantly, these mechanisms are needed for optimal hyperactivation and fertilization in wild-type mice, as confirmed by using mitochondrial inhibitors. Thus, we describe a novel mechanism of sperm capacitation. This work contributes to our understanding of the role of mitochondria in sperm physiology and opens the possibility of new molecular targets for fertility treatments and male contraception.
Keywords: Calcium; CatSper channels; Fertilization; Hyperactivation; Mitochondrial activity; Spermatozoa capacitation.
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