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Identification of a Testicular Odorant Receptor Mediating Human Sperm Chemotaxis

Science, 28 March 2003
Vol. 299, Issue 5615, p. 2054-2058
DOI: 10.1126/science.1080376

Identification of a Testicular Odorant Receptor Mediating Human Sperm Chemotaxis

  1. Marc Spehr1,
  2. Günter Gisselmann1,
  3. Alexandra Poplawski1,
  4. Jeffrey A. Riffell2,
  5. Christian H. Wetzel1,
  6. Richard K. Zimmer2,3,
  7. Hanns Hatt1,*
  1. 1 Department of Cell Physiology, Ruhr University Bochum, 150 University Street, D-44780 Bochum, Germany.
  2. 2 Department of Biology,
  3. 3 Neurosciences Program and Brain Research Institute, University of California, 621 Young Drive South, Los Angeles, CA 90095, USA.


Although it has been known for some time that olfactory receptors (ORs) reside in spermatozoa, the function of these ORs is unknown. Here, we identified, cloned, and functionally expressed a previously undescribed human testicular OR, hOR17-4. With the use of ratiofluorometric imaging, Ca2+ signals were induced by a small subset of applied chemical stimuli, establishing the molecular receptive fields for the recombinantly expressed receptor in human embryonic kidney (HEK) 293 cells and the native receptor in human spermatozoa. Bourgeonal was a powerful agonist for both recombinant and native receptor types, as well as a strong chemoattractant in subsequent behavioral bioassays. In contrast, undecanal was a potent OR antagonist to bourgeonal and related compounds. Taken together, these results indicate that hOR17-4 functions in human sperm chemotaxis and may be a critical component of the fertilization process.

  • * To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: hanns.hatt{at}

  • Received for publication 12 November 2002.
  • Accepted for publication 22 January 2003.


M. Spehr, G. Gisselmann, A. Poplawski, J. A. Riffell, C. H. Wetzel, R. K. Zimmer, and H. Hatt, Identification of a Testicular Odorant Receptor Mediating Human Sperm Chemotaxis. Science 299, 2054-2058 (2003).

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