Prostate-specific antigen test
Prostate-specific antigen (PSA), also known as gamma-seminoprotein or kallikrein-3 (KLK3), is a glycoprotein enzyme encoded in humans by the KLK3 gene. PSA is a member of the kallikrein-related peptidase family and is secreted by the epithelial cells of the prostate gland. PSA is produced for the ejaculate, where it liquefies semen in the seminal coagulum and allows sperm to swim freely. It is also believed to be instrumental in dissolving cervical mucus, allowing the entry of sperm into the uterus. PSA is present in small quantities in the serum of men with healthy prostates, but is often elevated in the presence of prostate cancer or other prostate disorders. PSA is not a unique indicator of prostate cancer, but may also detect prostatitis or benign prostatic hyperplasia.
The physiological function of KLK3 is the dissolution of the coagulum, the sperm entrapping gel composed of semenogelins and fibronectin. Its proteolytic action is effective in liquefying the coagulum so that the sperm can be liberated. The activity of PSA is well regulated. In the prostate, it is present as an inactive pro-form which is activated through the action of KLK2, another kallikrein-related peptidase. In the prostate, zinc ion concentrations are ten times higher than in other bodily fluids. Zinc ions have a strong inhibitory effect on the activity of PSA and on that of KLK2, so that PSA is totally inactive.
Further regulation is achieved through pH variations. Although its activity is increased by higher pH, the inhibitory effect of zinc also increases. The pH of semen is slightly alkaline and the concentrations of zinc are high. On ejaculation, semen is exposed to the acidic pH of the vagina, due to the presence of lactic acid. In fertile couples, the final vaginal pH after coitus approaches the 6-7 levels, which coincides well with reduced zinc inhibition of PSA. At these pH levels, the reduced PSA activity is countered by a decrease in zinc inhibition. Thus, the coagulum is slowly liquefied, releasing the sperm in a well-regulated manner.