Involvement of homocysteine, homocysteine thiolactone, and paraoxonase type 1 (PON-1) in the etiology of defective human sperm function

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This study reports, for the first time, the significant (p ≤ 0.01) accumulation of homocysteine residues in low density, defective sperm suspensions isolated from patients attending an infertility clinic. This overabundance of homocysteine was not related to a deficiency in folate availability but may have been a reflection of the oxidative stress that characterizes such defective sperm populations. Direct addition of the homocysteine cyclic congener, homocysteine thiolactone, to human spermatozoa resulted in the rapid induction of mitochondrial reactive oxygen species (ROS) generation (p < 0.001), the stimulation of lipid peroxidation (p < 0.01), the promotion of tyrosine phosphorylation (p < 0.001), and the suppression of sperm motility (p < 0.001) in the absence of any significant impact on DNA integrity. The parent homocysteine molecule was less active and took 24 h to stimulate mitochondrial ROS production possibly because of the need to convert this compound to the corresponding thiolactone before it could exert a measureable biological effect. Thiolactone was also effective in suppressing the carboxymethylation of key proteins in the sperm tail, which are thought to be involved in the regulation of sperm movement. The major enzyme responsible for removing thiolactone from proteins, paraoxonase (PON-1), was shown to be a major target for alkylation by lipid aldehydes, such as 4-hydroxynonenal, generated as a consequence of oxidative stress. Exposure of human spermatozoa to such aldehydes resulted in a dose-dependent accumulation of homocysteine in spermatozoa (p < 0.03). These results suggest that one of the consequences of oxidative stress in mammalian spermatozoa is the inhibition of PON-1, which then enhances the availability of homocysteine thiolactone to interact with the epsilon-amino group of lysine residues on sperm proteins, triggering a raft of significant biological changes in these cells that ultimately compromise sperm function.

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