Curcumin has shown to affect sperm motility and function in vitro and fertility in vivo. The molecular mechanism(s) by which curcumin affects sperm motility has not been delineated. Since modulation of intracellular pH (pHi) and plasma membrane polarization is involved in sperm motility, the present study was conducted to investigate the effect of curcumin on these sperm (human and murine) parameters.
The effect of curcumin on sperm forward motility was examined by counting percentages of forward moving sperm. The effect of curcumin on intracellular pH (pHi) was measured by the fluorescent pH indicator 2,7-bicarboxyethyl-5,6-carboxyfluorescein-acetoxymethyl ester (BCECF-AM). The effect of curcumin on plasma membrane polarization was examined using the fluorescence sensitive dye bis (1,3-dibarbituric acid)-trimethine oxanol [DiBAC 4(3)].
Curcumin caused a concentration-dependent (p<0.05) decrease in forward motility of both human and mouse sperm. It also caused a concentration-dependent decrease in intracellular pH (pHi) in both human and mouse sperm. Curcumin induced significant (p<0.05) hyperpolarization of the plasma membrane in both human and mouse sperm.
These findings indicate that curcumin inhibits sperm forward motility by intracellular acidification and hyperpolarization of sperm plasma membrane. This is the first study to our knowledge which examined the effect of curcumin on sperm pHi and membrane polarization that affect sperm forward motility. These exciting findings will have application in deciphering the signal transduction pathway involved in sperm motility and function and in development of a novel non-steroidal contraceptive for infertility.