Modification of crocodile spermatozoa refutes the tenet that post-testicular sperm maturation is restricted to mammals

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Journal Article
Molecular and Cellular Proteomics, 2019, 18 pp. S59 - S76
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© 2019 Nixon et al. Published under exclusive license by The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Inc. Competition to achieve paternity has contributed to the development of a multitude of elaborate male reproductive strategies. In one of the most well-studied examples, the spermatozoa of all mammalian species must undergo a series of physiological changes, termed capacitation, in the female reproductive tract before realizing their potential to fertilize an ovum. However, the evolutionary origin and adaptive advantage afforded by capacitation remains obscure. Here, we report the use of comparative and quantitative proteomics to explore the biological significance of capacitation in an ancient reptilian species, the Australian saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus). Our data reveal that exposure of crocodile spermatozoa to capacitation stimuli elicits a cascade of physiological responses that are analogous to those implicated in the functional activation of their mammalian counterparts. Indeed, among a total of 1119 proteins identified in this study, we detected 126 that were differentially phosphorylated ( 1.2 fold-change) in capacitated versus noncapacitated crocodile spermatozoa. Notably, this subset of phosphorylated proteins shared substantial evolutionary overlap with those documented in mammalian spermatozoa, and included key elements of signal transduction, metabolic and cellular remodeling pathways. Unlike mammalian sperm, however, we noted a distinct bias for differential phosphorylation of serine (as opposed to tyrosine) residues, with this amino acid featuring as the target for 80% of all changes detected in capacitated spermatozoa. Overall, these results indicate that the phenomenon of sperm capacitation is unlikely to be restricted to mammals and provide a framework for understanding the molecular changes in sperm physiology necessary for fertilization.
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