Evolutionary Conservation of Mammalian Sperm Proteins Associates with Overall, not Tyrosine, Phosphorylation in Human Spermatozoa

We investigated possible associations between sequence evolution of mammalian sperm proteins and their phosphorylation status in humans. As a reference, spermatozoa from three normozoospermic men were analyzed combining two-dimensional gel electrophoresis, immunoblotting, and mass spectrometry. We identified 99 sperm proteins (thereof 42 newly described) and determined the phosphorylation status for most of them. Sequence evolution was studied across six mammalian species using nonsynonymous/synonymous rate ratios (dN/dS) and amino acid distances. Site-specific purifying selection was assessed employing average ratios of evolutionary rates at phosphorylated versus nonphosphorylated amino acids (α). According to our data, mammalian sperm proteins do not show statistically significant sequence conservation difference, no matter if the human ortholog is a phosphoprotein with or without tyrosine (Y) phosphorylation. In contrast, overall phosphorylation of human sperm proteins, i.e., phosphorylation at serine (S), threonine (T), and/or Y residues, associates with above-average conservation of sequences. Complementary investigations suggest that numerous protein–protein interactants constrain sequence evolution of sperm phosphoproteins. Although our findings reject a special relevance of Y phosphorylation for sperm functioning, they still indicate that overall phosphorylation substantially contributes to proper functioning of sperm proteins. Hence, phosphorylated sperm proteins might be considered as prime candidates for diagnosis and treatment of reduced male fertility.