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Human sperm cells can form paracetamol metabolite AM404 that directly interferes with sperm calcium signalling and function through a CatSper-dependent mechanism

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STUDY QUESTION: Do paracetamol (N-acetyl-para-aminophenol (APAP) or acetaminophen) and/or its metabolites affect human sperm Ca2+-signalling and function?

SUMMARY ANSWER: While APAP itself does not interact with Ca2+-signalling in human sperm, its metabolite N-arachidonoyl phenolamine (AM404), produced via fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH), interferes with human sperm Ca2+-signalling and function through a suggested CatSper channel-dependent action.

WHAT IS KNOWN ALREADY: Studies have shown that adult men with high urinary levels of over-the-counter mild analgesic APAP have impaired sperm motility and increased time-to-pregnancy.

STUDY DESIGN, SIZE, DURATION: This study consists of (i) an in vivo human pharmaceutical APAP exposure experiment to understand to what degree APAP reaches the sperm cells in the seminal fluid; (ii) in vitro calcium imaging and functional experiments in freshly donated human sperm cells to investigate CatSper channel-dependent activation by APAP and its metabolites; and (iii) experiments to understand the in situ capabilities of human sperm cells to form APAP metabolite AM404.

PARTICIPANTS/MATERIALS, SETTING, METHODS: Three healthy young males participated in the in vivo human exposure experiment after prior consent. Human semen samples were provided by healthy young volunteer donors after prior consent on the day of the in vitro experiments.

MAIN RESULTS AND THE ROLE OF CHANCE: Pharmaceutical APAP exposure reaches the seminal plasma in high micromolar concentrations and accumulates in the seminal plasma between 3 and 5 days of exposure (P-value 0.023). APAP and its primary metabolite 4-aminophenol (4AP) do not interact with human sperm Ca2+-signalling. Instead, the APAP metabolite AM404 produced via FAAH interferes with human sperm Ca2+-signalling through a CatSper-dependent action. Also, AM404 significantly increases sperm cell penetration into viscous mucous (P-value of 0.003). FAAH is functionally expressed in human sperm cells in the neck/midpiece region, as evidenced by immunohistochemical staining and the ability of human sperm cells to hydrolyse the fluorogenic FAAH substrate arachidonyl 7-amino, 4-methyl coumarin amide in an FAAH-dependent manner. Importantly, human sperm cells have the capacity to form AM404 in situ after exposure to 4AP (P-value 0.0402 compared to vehicle-treated sperm cells).

LIMITATIONS, REASONS FOR CAUTION: The experiments were conducted largely in vitro. Future studies are needed to test whether APAP can disrupt human sperm function in vivo through the action of AM404.

WIDER IMPLICATIONS OF THE FINDINGS: We hypothesize that these observations could, at least in part, be responsible for the negative association between male urinary APAP concentrations, sperm motility and time-to-pregnancy.

STUDY FUNDING/COMPETING INTEREST(S): D.M.K. is funded by the Lundbeck Foundation, grant number R324-2019-1881, and the Svend Andersen Foundation. A.R. is funded by a BRIDGE-Translational Excellence Programme grant funded by the Novo Nordisk Foundation, grant agreement number: NNF18SA0034956. All authors declare no competing interests.


TidsskriftHuman reproduction (Oxford, England)
Udgave nummer5
Sider (fra-til)922-935
Antal sider14
StatusUdgivet - 3 maj 2022

Bibliografisk note

© The Author(s) 2022. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology. All rights reserved. For permissions, please email:

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