A unique characteristic of mammalian sperm thermotaxis is extreme temperature sensitivity, manifested by the capacity of spermatozoa to respond to temperature changes of <0.0006 °C as they swim their body-length distance. The identity of the sensing system that confers this exceptional sensitivity on spermatozoa is not known. Here we show that the temperature-sensing system of mammalian spermatozoa involves opsins, known to be G-protein-coupled receptors that act as photosensors in vision. We demonstrate by molecular, immunological, and functional approaches that opsins are present in human and mouse spermatozoa at specific sites, which depend on the species and the opsin type, and that they are involved in sperm thermotaxis via two signalling pathways-the phospholipase C and the cyclic-nucleotide pathways. Our results suggest that, depending on the context and the tissue, mammalian opsins act not only as photosensors but also as thermosensors.
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