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Paper Chase

Acidification of the male reproductive tract by a proton pumping (H+)-ATPase.

Nat. Med.. 4 1, 1996;2(4):470-2.
Breton S, Smith PJ, Lui B, Brown D.

Renal Unit, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts 02129, USA.


An acidic luminal pH (ref. 1-3) is involved in sperm maturation, and in maintaining sperm in an immotile state in the epididymis and vas deferens (2,4-6). Neutralization by prostatic fluid is one of a complex series of events that triggers sperm motility (2,7,8). Failure of the acidification mechanism might, therefore, result in poor sperm maturation, premature motility and infertility. We have shown that a vacuolar (H+)-ATPase is expressed at high levels on the luminal plasma membrane of specialized cells in the epididymis (9), which closely resemble acid-secreting kidney intercalated cells (10,11). We now show that similar cells are also present in the vas deferens, and that a bafilomycin-sensitive proton flux can be detected using a noninvasive proton-selective vibrating probe. Up to 80% of the net proton secretion in the vas deferens is inhibited by bafilomycin, consistent with a major role of a vacuolar-type (H+)-ATPase in this process. This acidification mechanism is a potential target for novel strategies aimed at modulating the acidification capacity of parts of the male reproductive tract and, therefore, in regulating male fertility.