Nature 2011 Mar;471(7338):382-6
Center of Advanced European Studies and Research, Abteilung Molekulare Neurosensorik, Ludwig-Erhard-Allee 2, 53175 Bonn, Germany.
In the oviduct, cumulus cells that surround the oocyte release progesterone. In human sperm, progesterone stimulates a Ca(2+) increase by a non-genomic mechanism. The Ca(2+) signal has been proposed to control chemotaxis, hyperactivation and acrosomal exocytosis of sperm. However, the underlying signalling mechanism has remained mysterious. Here we show that progesterone activates the sperm-specific, pH-sensitive CatSper Ca(2+) channel. We found that both progesterone and alkaline pH stimulate a rapid Ca(2+) influx with almost no latency, incompatible with a signalling pathway involving metabotropic receptors and second messengers. The Ca(2+) signals evoked by alkaline pH and progesterone are inhibited by the Ca(v) channel blockers NNC 55-0396 and mibefradil. Patch-clamp recordings from sperm reveal an alkaline-activated current carried by mono- and divalent ions that exhibits all the hallmarks of sperm-specific CatSper Ca(2+) channels. Progesterone substantially enhances the CatSper current. The alkaline- and progesterone-activated CatSper current is inhibited by both drugs. Our results resolve a long-standing controversy over the non-genomic progesterone signalling. In human sperm, either the CatSper channel itself or an associated protein serves as the non-genomic progesterone receptor. The identification of CatSper channel blockers will greatly facilitate the study of Ca(2+) signalling in sperm and help to define further the physiological role of progesterone and CatSper.