Human spermatozoa express type-1 cannabinoid receptor (CB1), whose activation by anandamide (AEA) affects motility and acrosome reaction (AR). In this study, we extended the characterization of the AEA-related endocannabinoid system in human spermatozoa, and we focused on the involvement of the AEA-binding vanilloid receptor (TRPV1) in their fertilizing ability. Protein expression was revealed for CB1 (∼56 kDa), TRPV1 (∼95 kDa), AEA-synthesizing phospholipase D (NAPE-PLD) (∼46 kDa), and AEA-hydrolyzing enzyme [fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH), ∼66 kDa]. Both AEA-binding receptors (CB1 and TRPV1) exhibited a functional binding activity; enzymatic activity was demonstrated for NAPE-PLD, FAAH, and the purported endocannabinoid membrane transporter (EMT). Immunoreactivity for CB1, NAPE-PLD, and FAAH was localized in the postacrosomal region and in the midpiece, whereas for TRPV1, it was restricted to the postacrosomal region. Capsazepine (CPZ), a selective antagonist of TRPV1, inhibited progesterone (P)-enhanced sperm/oocyte fusion, as evaluated by the hamster egg penetration test. This inhibition was due to a reduction of the P-induced AR rate above the spontaneous AR rate, which was instead increased. The sperm exposure to OMDM-1, a specific inhibitor of EMT, prevented the promoting effect of CPZ on spontaneous AR rate and restored the sperm responsiveness to P. No significant effects could be observed on sperm motility. In conclusion, this study provides unprecedented evidence that human spermatozoa exhibit a completely functional endocannabinoid system related to AEA and that the AEA-binding TRPV1 receptor could be involved in the sperm fertilizing ability.
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