Open Access
Voltage-dependent calcium channels in mammalian spermatozoa revisited
Susan Benoff1,Charles C Chu1,Joel L Marmar1,Rebecca Z Sokol1,Leslie O Goodwin1,Ian R Hurley1
Center for Oncology and Cell Biology, The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, 350 Community Drive, Manhasset, New York 11030, USA.
DOI: 10.2741/2158 Volume 12 Issue 4, pp.1420-1449
Published: 01 January 2007
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sperm biology, from basic to clinic)

The last few years have seen an explosion in the number of voltage-dependent ion channel sequences detected in sperm and testes. The complex structural paradigm of these channels is now known to include a pore-forming alpha1 subunit(s) whose electrophysiological properties are modulated by an intracellular beta subunit, a disulfide-linked complex of a membrane-spanning delta subunit with an extracellular alpha2 subunit, and a transmembrane gamma subunit. Many of these are alternatively spliced. Furthermore, the known number of genes coding each subtype has expanded significantly (10 alpha1, 4 beta, 4 alpha2delta, 8 gamma). Recently, the CatSper gene family has been characterized based on similarity to the voltage-dependent calcium channel alpha1 subunit. From among this multiplicity, a wide cross-section is active in sperm, including many splice variants. For example, expression of the various alpha1 subunits appears strictly localized in discrete domains of mature sperm, and seems to control distinct physiological roles such as cellular signaling pathways. These include alpha1 alternative splicing variants that are regulated by ions passed by channels in developing sperm. Various combinations of ion channel sequence variants have been studies in research models and in a variety of human diseases, including male infertility. For example, rats that are genetically resistant to testes damage by lead seem to respond to lead ions by increasing alpha1 alternative splicing. In contrast, in varicocele-associated male infertility, the outcome from surgical correction correlates with suppression of alpha1 alternative splicing, Ion channel blockers remain attractive model contraceptive drugs because of their ability to modulate cholesterol levels. However, the large number of sperm ion channel variants shared with other cell types make ion channels less attractive targets for male contraceptive development than a few years ago. In this review, the genetics, structure and function of voltage-dependent calcium channels and related CatSper molecules will be discussed, and several practical clinical applications associated with these channels will be reported.

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Susan Benoff, Charles C Chu, Joel L Marmar, Rebecca Z Sokol, Leslie O Goodwin, Ian R Hurley. Voltage-dependent calcium channels in mammalian spermatozoa revisited. Frontiers in Bioscience-Landmark. 2007. 12(4); 1420-1449.