Theranostics 2021; 11(6):2822-2844. doi:10.7150/thno.51869

Research Paper

Roles of CatSper channels in the pathogenesis of asthenozoospermia and the therapeutic effects of acupuncture-like treatment on asthenozoospermia

Zi-Run Jin1, Dong Fang1, Bo-Heng Liu1, Jie Cai1, Wen-Hao Tang3, Hui Jiang3, Guo-Gang Xing1,2✉

1. Neuroscience Research Institute, Peking University; Department of Neurobiology, School of Basic Medical Sciences, Peking University Health Science Center; Key Laboratory for Neuroscience, Ministry of Education of China & National Health Commission of China, Beijing 100191, China.
2. The Second Affiliated Hospital of Xinxiang Medical University, Henan, Xinxiang 453002, China.
3. Department of Urology, the Third Hospital, Peking University, Beijing 100191, China.

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Jin ZR, Fang D, Liu BH, Cai J, Tang WH, Jiang H, Xing GG. Roles of CatSper channels in the pathogenesis of asthenozoospermia and the therapeutic effects of acupuncture-like treatment on asthenozoospermia. Theranostics 2021; 11(6):2822-2844. doi:10.7150/thno.51869. Available from

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Rationale: Idiopathic asthenozoospermia (iAZS) is one of the major causes of male infertility and has no effective therapeutic treatment. Understanding the potential mechanisms that cause it may be helpful in seeking novel targets and treatment strategies for overcoming the problem of low sperm motility in iAZS individuals.

Methods: Computer-assisted semen analysis (CASA) was utilized to assess the sperm motility. RT-qPCR, Western blot, immunofluorescence staining, and calcium imaging analysis were performed to examine the expression and function of CatSper channels. Hyperactivation and acrosome reaction were used to evaluate the functional characteristics of epididymal sperm. In vivo fertility assay was applied to determine the fertility of rats. CatSper1 knockdown and overexpression experiments were performed to confirm the roles of CatSper channels in the pathogenesis of iAZS and the therapeutic effects of electroacupuncture (EA) treatment on AZS model rats.

Results: Here, we reported a functional down-regulation of CatSper channel from CatSper1 to CatSper 4 in the sperm of both iAZS patients and ornidazole (ORN)-induced AZS model rats, and an impaired sperm function characterized by a reduction of protein tyrosine phosphorylation, hyperactivation, and acrosome reaction in the epididymal sperm of AZS rats. Knockdown of CatSper1 in the testis tissues is sufficient to induce AZS in normal rats, and this action was validated by the reversal effects of CatSper1 overexpression. Transcutaneous electrical acupoint stimulation (TEAS) and electroacupuncture (EA) at 2 Hz frequency improve the sperm motility via enhancing the functional expression of CatSper channels in the sperm. Gene silencing CatSper1 in the sperm abolishes the therapeutic effects of 2 Hz-EA treatment on AZS rats.

Conclusions: We conclude that a functional down-regulation of CatSper channel in the sperm may be a contributor or a downstream indicator for a portion of AZS, especially iAZS, while 2 Hz-TEAS or EA treatment has a therapeutic effect on iAZS through inducing the functional up-regulation of CatSper channels in the sperm. This study provides a novel mechanism for the pathogenesis of some AZS especially iAZS, and presents a potential therapeutic target of CatSper for iAZS treatment. Acupuncture treatment like TEAS may be used as a promising complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapy for male infertility caused by iAZS in clinical practice.

Keywords: idiopathic asthenozoospermia, male infertility, CatSper, acupuncture, sperm motility