Spermatozoa are highly differentiated cells whose ultimate function is fertilization to successfully transfer the male genome. This achievement relies on the expression, localization, organization, and proper functionality of their molecular components. For years, proteomics emerged as a remarkable approach for fertility research to identify specific protein markers related to sperm competency. Such biomarkers, undetected with conventional semen analysis methods, are next-generation tools to assess sperm functionality and predict male fertility. Among them, the proAKAP4 marker is a sperm-specific protein, synthesized as the precursor of AKAP4, highly conserved among mammals and only present in the principal piece of the flagellum. ProAKAP4 entails a disposable stock of AKAP4 to ensure long-lasting sperm motility up to the fecundation site, capacitation, and fertility. By being either converted into mature and active AKAP4 or degraded by proteolysis, proAKAP4 is a stress sensor, acting as a potential gatekeeper to prevent transmission of unfavorable genetic damage to the next generation. Loss or decrease of AKAP4 expression does not affect the number of spermatozoa produced but it impacted sperm motility, viability, and fecundation. A method based on proAKAP4 concentration measurement in a defined number of spermatozoa recently appeared as a simple, reliable, reproducible, robust, and quantitative tool to assess more objectively semen quality and predict male fertility. In this review, we will discuss how fundamental discoveries around the proAKAP4 biomarker provide a yet missing molecular dimension in semen analysis assessments to ensure higher semen quality and reproductive performance in veterinary clinics, zoos, and wild animal reproduction centers.
Keywords: AKAP4; Biomarker; Fertility; Long-term motility; ProAKAP4; Sperm quality.
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