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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Structural evolution of CatSper1 in rodents is influenced by sperm competition, with effects on sperm swimming velocity

Alberto Vicens, Maximiliano Tourmente and Eduardo RS Roldan*

Author Affiliations

Reproductive Ecology and Biology Group, Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales (CSIC), c/Jose Gutierrez Abascal 2, 28006 Madrid, Spain

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2014, 14:106  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-14-106

Published: 16 May 2014



Competition between spermatozoa from rival males for success in fertilization (i.e., sperm competition) is an important selective force driving the evolution of male reproductive traits and promoting positive selection in genes related to reproductive function. Positive selection has been identified in reproductive proteins showing rapid divergence at nucleotide level. Other mutations, such as insertions and deletions (indels), also occur in protein-coding sequences. These structural changes, which exist in reproductive genes and result in length variation in coded proteins, could also be subjected to positive selection and be under the influence of sperm competition. Catsper1 is one such reproductive gene coding for a germ-line specific voltage-gated calcium channel essential for sperm motility and fertilization. Positive selection appears to promote fixation of indels in the N-terminal region of CatSper1 in mammalian species. However, it is not known which selective forces underlie these changes and their implications for sperm function.


We tested if length variation in the N-terminal region of CatSper1 is influenced by sperm competition intensity in a group of closely related rodent species of the subfamily Murinae. Our results revealed a negative correlation between sequence length of CatSper1 and relative testes mass, a very good proxy of sperm competition levels. Since CatSper1 is important for sperm flagellar motility, we examined if length variation in the N-terminus of CatSper1 is linked to changes in sperm swimming velocity. We found a negative correlation between CatSper1 length and several sperm velocity parameters.


Altogether, our results suggest that sperm competition selects for a shortening of the intracellular region of CatSper1 which, in turn, enhances sperm swimming velocity, an essential and adaptive trait for fertilization success.

CatSper1; Sperm competition; Indels; Positive selection; Sperm velocity; Rodents