In vitro fertilization does not occur readily in the horse. This may be related to failure of equine sperm to initiate hyperactivated motility, as treating with procaine to induce hyperactivation increases fertilization rates. In mice, hyperactivated motility requires a sperm-specific pH-gated calcium channel (CatSper); therefore, we investigated this channel in equine sperm. Motility was assessed by computer-assisted sperm motility analysis and changes in intracellular pH and calcium were assessed using fluorescent probes. Increasing intracellular pH induced a rise in intracellular calcium, which was inhibited by the known CatSper blocker mibefradil, supporting the presence of a pH-gated calcium channel, presumably CatSper. Hyperactivation was associated with moderately increased intracellular pH, but appeared inversely related to increases in intracellular calcium. In calcium-deficient medium, high-pH treatment induced motility loss, consistent with influx of sodium through open CatSper channels in the absence of environmental calcium. However, sperm treated with procaine in calcium-deficient medium both maintained motility and underwent hyperactivation, suggesting that procaine did not act via opening of the CatSper channel. CATSPER1 mRNA was identified in equine sperm by PCR, and CATSPER1 protein was localized to the principal piece on immunocytochemistry. Analysis of the predicted equine CATSPER1 protein revealed species-specific differences in structure in the pH-sensor region. We conclude that the CatSper channel is present in equine sperm but that the relationship of hyperactivated motility to calcium influx is weak. Procaine does not appear to act via CatSper in equine sperm, and its initial hyperactivating action is not dependent upon external calcium influx.
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Vol. 89 • No. 5