Science News

How sperm get turned on

Sun, 7th Feb 2010

Listen Now    Download as mp3 from the show Pollution & Plastics

Scientists have discovered the mechanism that starts sperm swimming once they exit the male.

Most people regard sperm as tiny swimming cells that vigorously dash about in search of eggs. But, in reality, they only begin behaving like this once they enter a female. Sperm and EggIn the male they remain quiescent so as not to wear themselves out before the "great egg race". How this was achieved though, no one knew.

Now researchers at the University of California San Francisco have found that an ion channel (a specialised pore) in the cells membrane allows protons - hydrogen ions - to flood out of the sperm at the right moment, and this is the trigger that starts them swimming.

Polina Lishko and her colleagues made the discovery using a technique called "patch clamping". A tiny pipette was applied to the membranes of individual sperm cells to measure the electrical currents flowing into and out of the cells under different conditions.

The work, published in the journal Cell, showed that in response to alkaline conditions, a drop in zinc concentration or the presence of one of the body's own cannabis-like chemicals, a substance called anandamide, the Hv1 channel opened. The exit of hydrogen ions through the channel raises the pH inside the sperm, activating other metabolic processes, including switching on the sperm flagellum which it uses to swim.

The discovery sheds new light on an old mystery but may also hold the key to treatments for some forms of infertility and even the next generation of contraceptives: by blocking the proton pore with a drug scientists are hoping they can switch off sperm to induce a state of reversible infertility; it may also be possible to give the motility of sperm a boost in people with poor sperm function.



Subscribe Free

Related Content


Make a comment

Egg-porn? LeeE, Thu, 18th Feb 2010

Capacitation - when it gets close to the ovum with its accompany cells, the sperm is capacitated releasing digestive enzymes to burrow toward the egg. Yair Doza, Fri, 26th Mar 2010

hum, Interesting discovery !
Specially for nowadays where the pollution is threatening the male more than the female fertility. myriam, Sat, 15th May 2010

Realy nice. Bt where sperm produced in our body? Sachin, Sat, 16th Jul 2011

See the whole discussion | Make a comment

Not working please enable javascript
Powered by UKfast
Genetics Society