Kcnj16 (Kir5.1) gene ablation causes subfertility and increases the prevalence of morphologically abnormal spermatozoa

Giulia Poli, Sonia Hasan, Silvia Belia, Marta Cenciarini, Stephen J. Tucker, Paola Imbrici, Safa Shehab, Mauro Pessia, Stefano Brancorsini, Maria Cristina D’adamo

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5 Citations (Scopus)


The ability of spermatozoa to swim towards an oocyte and fertilize it depends on precise K+ permeability changes. Kir5.1 is an inwardly-rectifying potassium (Kir) channel with high sensitivity to intracellular H+ (pHi) and extracellular K+ concentration [K+ ]o, and hence provides a link between pHi and [K+ ]o changes and membrane potential. The intrinsic pHi sensitivity of Kir5.1 suggests a possible role for this channel in the pHi-dependent processes that take place during fertilization. However, despite the localization of Kir5.1 in murine spermatozoa, and its increased expression with age and sexual maturity, the role of the channel in sperm morphology, maturity, motility, and fertility is unknown. Here, we confirmed the presence of Kir5.1 in spermatozoa and showed strong expression of Kir4.1 channels in smooth muscle and epithelial cells lining the epididymal ducts. In contrast, Kir4.2 expression was not detected in testes. To examine the possible role of Kir5.1 in sperm physiology, we bred mice with a deletion of the Kcnj16 (Kir5.1) gene and observed that 20% of Kir5.1 knock-out male mice were infertile. Furthermore, 50% of knock-out mice older than 3 months were unable to breed. By contrast, 100% of wild-type (WT) mice were fertile. The genetic inactivation of Kcnj16 also resulted in smaller testes and a greater percentage of sperm with folded flagellum compared to WT littermates. Nevertheless, the abnormal sperm from mutant animals displayed increased progressive motility. Thus, ablation of the Kcnj16 gene identifies Kir5.1 channel as an important element contributing to testis development, sperm flagellar morphology, motility, and fertility. These findings are potentially relevant to the understanding of the complex pHi-and [K+ ]o-dependent interplay between different sperm ion channels, and provide insight into their role in fertilization and infertility.

Original languageEnglish
Article number5972
JournalInternational journal of molecular sciences
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Jun 1 2021


  • Epididymis
  • Flagellar morphology
  • KCNJ10
  • KCNJ15
  • KCNJ16
  • Kir4.1
  • Kir4.2
  • Kir5.1
  • Male fertility
  • Potassium channel
  • Sperm motility
  • Spermatozoa
  • Testis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Catalysis
  • Molecular Biology
  • Spectroscopy
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Inorganic Chemistry


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