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Human sperm chromatin stabilization: a proposed model including zinc bridges

Date: 2-8-2010

Lars Björndahl and Ulrik Kvist  1 Centre for Andrology and Sexual Medicine, Karolinska University Hospital and Department of Medicine, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden

The primary focus of this review is to challenge the current concepts on sperm chromatin stability. The observations (i) that zinc depletion at ejaculation allows a rapid and total sperm chromatin decondensation without the addition of exogenous disulfide cleaving agents and (ii) that the human sperm chromatin contains one zinc for every protamine for every turn of the DNA helix suggest an alternative model for sperm chromatin structure may be plausible. An alternative model is therefore proposed, that the human spermatozoon could at ejaculation have a rapidly reversible zinc dependent chromatin stability: Zn2+ stabilizes the structure and prevents the formation of excess disulfide bridges by a single mechanism, the formation of zinc bridges with protamine thiols of cysteine and potentially imidazole groups of histidine. Extraction of zinc enables two biologically totally different outcomes: immediate decondensation if chromatin fibers are concomitantly induced to repel (e.g. by phosphorylation in the ooplasm); otherwise freed thiols become committed into disulfide bridges creating a superstabilized chromatin. Spermatozoa in the zinc rich prostatic fluid (normally the first expelled ejaculate fraction) represent the physiological situation. Extraction of chromatin zinc can be accomplished by the seminal vesicular fluid. Collection of the ejaculate in one single container causes abnormal contact between spermatozoa and seminal vesicular fluid affecting the sperm chromatin stability. There are men in infertile couples with low content of sperm chromatin zinc due to loss of zinc during ejaculation and liquefaction. Tests for sperm DNA integrity may give false negative results due to decreased access for the assay to the DNA in superstabilized chromatin.

DPE: A mouse model system showed that dietary zince deficiency caused DNA fragmentation in epididymal sperm Evenson, D.P., Emerick, R.J., Jost, L.K., Kayongo-Male, H. and Stewart, S.R.  (1993)  Zinc-Silicon interactions influencing sperm chromatin integrity and testicular cell development in the rat as measured by flow cytometry.  J. Anim. Sci. 71:955-962.