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  • Abstract: testicle x
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  • Abstract: blood-testes barrier x
  • Abstract: interstitial x
  • Abstract: spermatogenesis x
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Open access

Andreas Kortenkamp, Martin Scholze and Sibylle Ermler

Several countries have experienced rises in cryptorchidisms, hypospadias and testicular germ cell cancer. The reasons for these trends are largely unknown, but Skakkebaek has proposed that these disorders form a testicular dysgenesis syndrome and can be traced to androgen insufficiency in foetal life. This suggests that antiandrogenic chemicals might contribute to risks, but few chemicals have been linked to these diseases in epidemiological studies. In animal studies with p,p -dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene, effects typical of disruptions of male sexual differentiation became apparent when the foetal levels of this androgen receptor (AR) antagonist approached values associated with responses in in vitro assays. This prompted us to analyse whether the 22 chemicals with AR antagonistic properties would produce mixture effects in an in vitro AR antagonism assay when combined at concentrations found in human serum. Other antiandrogenic modalities could not be considered. Two scenarios were investigated, one representative of average serum levels reported in European countries, the other in line with levels towards the high exposures. In both situations, the in vitro potency of the 22 selected AR antagonists was too low to produce combined AR antagonistic effects at the concentrations found in human serum, although the high exposure scenario came quite close to measurable effects. Nevertheless, our analysis exposes an explanation gap which can only be bridged by conjuring up as yet undiscovered high potency AR antagonists or, alternatively, high exposures to unknown agents of average potency.

Open access

P J O'Shaughnessy, A Monteiro, G Verhoeven, K De Gendt and M H Abel

FSH and androgen act to stimulate and maintain spermatogenesis. FSH acts directly on the Sertoli cells to stimulate germ cell number and acts indirectly to increase androgen production by the Leydig cells. In order to differentiate between the direct effects of FSH on spermatogenesis and those mediated indirectly through androgen action, we have crossed hypogonadal (hpg) mice, which lack gonadotrophins, with mice lacking androgen receptors (AR) either ubiquitously (ARKO) or specifically on the Sertoli cells (SCARKO). These hpg.ARKO and hpg.SCARKO mice were treated with recombinant FSH for 7 days and testicular morphology and cell numbers were assessed. In untreated hpg and hpg.SCARKO mice, germ cell development was limited and did not progress beyond the pachytene stage. In hpg.ARKO mice, testes were smaller with fewer Sertoli cells and germ cells compared to hpg mice. Treatment with FSH had no effect on Sertoli cell number but significantly increased germ cell numbers in all groups. In hpg mice, FSH increased the numbers of spermatogonia and spermatocytes, and induced round spermatid formation. In hpg.SCARKO and hpg.ARKO mice, in contrast, only spermatogonial and spermatocyte numbers were increased with no formation of spermatids. Leydig cell numbers were increased by FSH in hpg and hpg.SCARKO mice but not in hpg.ARKO mice. Results show that in rodents 1) FSH acts to stimulate spermatogenesis through an increase in spermatogonial number and subsequent entry of these cells into meiosis, 2) FSH has no direct effect on the completion of meiosis and 3) FSH effects on Leydig cell number are mediated through interstitial ARs.

Open access

Cai Chen, Han Wu, Dan Shen, Saisai Wang, Li Zhang, Xiaoyan Wang, Bo Gao, Tianwen Wu, Bichun Li, Kui Li and Chengyi Song

The similarities and differences of small RNAs in seminal plasma, epididymal sperm and ejaculated sperm remain largely undefined. We conducted a systematic comparative analysis of small RNA profiles in pig ejaculated sperm, epididymal sperm and seminal plasma and found that the diversity distribution of small RNA species was generally similar, whereas the abundance of small RNAs is dramatically different across the three libraries; miRNAs and small RNAs derived from rRNA, tRNA, small nuclear RNA, 7SK RNA, NRON RNA and cis-regulatory RNA were enriched in the three libraries, but piRNA was absent. A large population of small RNAs from ejaculated sperm are ejaculated sperm specific, and only 8–30% of small RNAs overlapped with those of epididymal sperm or seminal plasma and a small proportion (5–18%) of small RNAs were shared in the three libraries, suggesting that, in addition to the testes, sperm RNAs may also originate from seminal plasma, epididymis as well as other resources. Most miRNAs were co-distributed but differentially expressed across the three libraries, with epididymal sperm exhibiting the highest abundance, followed by ejaculated sperm and seminal plasma. The prediction of target genes of the top 10 highly expressed miRNAs across the three libraries revealed that these miRNAs may be involved in spermatogenesis, zygote development and the interaction between the environment and animals. Our study provides the first description of the similarities and differences of small RNA profiles in ejaculated sperm, epididymal sperm and seminal plasma and indicates that sperm RNA may have origins other than the testes.

Open access

Juho-Antti Mäkelä, Vuokko Saario, Sonia Bourguiba-Hachemi, Mirja Nurmio, Kirsi Jahnukainen, Martti Parvinen and Jorma Toppari

Hedgehog (Hh) signalling has a crucial role in testis development. Sertoli cell-derived desert hedgehog (DHH) guides the formation of testis cords and differentiation of foetal-type Leydig cells. Dhh mutant mice are infertile due to a block in germ cell differentiation, hypogonadism and hypoandrogenism. Hh signalling pathway components are also expressed in postnatal testis. In the rat testis the transcription factor of the Hh pathway, glioma-associated oncogene homologue (GLI1), is expressed by a wide variety of germ cells. This suggests that Hh signalling is involved in spermatogenesis at many different levels. Our data show that canonical Hh signalling is turned off in early condensing spermatids that strongly express the negative regulator of the pathway, suppressor of fused (SUFU). Most of the Hh pathway specific mRNAs display the highest values in stages II–VI of the rat seminiferous epithelial cycle. The key endocrine regulator of germ cell differentiation, FSH, down-regulates Dhh mRNA levels in vitro. Hh signalling inhibition in vitro leads to massive apoptosis of germ cells. In prepubertal rat testis imatinib mesylate-induced inhibition of tyrosine kinases impinges on Dhh transcript levels and Hh signalling. Our data indicate that Hh signalling is part of the paracrine signalling network in the rat testis. It promotes the survival of germ cells and is suppressed by FSH.

Open access

Neil A Youngson, G Mezbah Uddin, Abhirup Das, Carl Martinez, Haley S Connaughton, Sara Whiting, Josephine Yu, David A Sinclair, R John Aitken and Margaret J Morris

Male fertility and sperm quality are negatively impacted by obesity. Furthermore, recent evidence has shown that male offspring from obese rat mothers also have reduced sperm quality and fertility. Here, we extend work in this area by comparing the effects of both maternal obesity and offspring post-weaning diet-induced obesity, as well as their combination, on sperm quality in mice. We additionally tested whether administration of the NAD+-booster nicotinamide mononucleotide (NMN) can ameliorate the negative effects of obesity and maternal obesity on sperm quality. We previously showed that intraperitoneal (i.p.) injection of NMN can reduce the metabolic deficits induced by maternal obesity or post-weaning dietary obesity in mice. In this study, female mice were fed a high-fat diet (HFD) for 6 weeks until they were 18% heavier than a control diet group. Thereafter, HFD and control female mice were mated with control diet males, and male offspring were weaned into groups receiving control or HFD. At 30 weeks of age, mice received 500 mg/kg body weight NMN or vehicle PBS i.p. for 21 days. As expected, adiposity was increased by both maternal and post-weaning HFD but reduced by NMN supplementation. Post-weaning HFD reduced sperm count and motility, while maternal HFD increased offspring sperm DNA fragmentation and levels of aberrant sperm chromatin. There was no evidence that the combination of post-weaning and maternal HFD exacerbated the impacts in sperm quality suggesting that they impact spermatogenesis through different mechanisms. Surprisingly NMN reduced sperm count, vitality and increased sperm oxidative DNA damage, which was associated with increased NAD+ in testes. A subsequent experiment using oral NMN at 400 mg/kg body weight was not associated with reduced sperm viability, oxidative stress, mitochondrial dysfunction or increased NAD+ in testes, suggesting that the negative impacts on sperm could be dependent on dose or mode of administration.

Open access

Jishang Gong, Quanwei Zhang, Qi Wang, Youji Ma, Jiaxiang Du, Yong Zhang and Xingxu Zhao

PIWI-interacting RNAs (piRNA) are small non-coding RNA molecules expressed in animal germ cells that interact with PIWI family proteins to form RNA–protein complexes involved in epigenetic and post-transcriptional gene silencing of retrotransposons and other genetic elements in germ line cells, including reproductive stem cell self-sustainment, differentiation, meiosis and spermatogenesis. In the present study, we performed high-throughput sequencing of piRNAs in testis samples from yaks in different stages of sexual maturity. Deep sequencing of the small RNAs (18–40 nt in length) yielded 4,900,538 unique reads from a total of 53,035,635 reads. We identified yak small RNAs (18–30 nt) and performed functional characterization. Yak small RNAs showed a bimodal length distribution, with two peaks at 22 nt and >28 nt. More than 80% of the 3,106,033 putative piRNAs were mapped to 4637 piRNA-producing genomic clusters using RPKM. 6388 candidate piRNAs were identified from clean reads and the annotations were compared with the yak reference genome repeat region. Integrated network analysis suggested that some differentially expressed genes were involved in spermatogenesis through ECM–receptor interaction and PI3K-Akt signaling pathways. Our data provide novel insights into the molecular expression and regulation similarities and diversities in spermatogenesis and testicular development in yaks at different stages of sexual maturity.

Open access

Yayoi Obata, Takuya Wakai, Satoshi Hara and Tomohiro Kono

DNA methylation imprints that are established in spermatogenesis and oogenesis are essential for functional gametes. However, the mechanisms underlying gamete-specific imprinting remain unclear. In this study, we investigated whether male and female gametes derived from newborn mice are epigenetically plastic and whether DNA methylation imprints are influenced by the niche surrounding the nuclei of the gametes. When prospermatogonia possessing sperm-specific DNA methylation imprints were fused with enucleated fully grown oocytes and exposed to the ooplasm for 5–6 days, the DNA methylation status of the reconstituted oocytes remained identical to that of prospermatogonia for all the imprinted regions analysed. These results suggest that the imprinting status of prospermatogonia is stable and that the epigenome of prospermatogonia loses sexual plasticity. By contrast, when non-growing oocytes lacking oocyte-specific DNA methylation imprints were fused with enucleated fully grown oocytes and the reconstituted oocytes were then cultured for 5–6 days, the Igf2r, Kcnq1ot1 and, unexpectedly, H19/Igf2 differentially methylated regions (DMRs) were methylated. Methylation imprints were entirely absent in oocytes derived from 5-day-old mice, and H19/Igf2 DMR is usually methylated only in spermatogenesis. These findings indicate that in the nuclei of non-growing oocytes the chromatin conformation changes and becomes permissive to DNA methyltransferases in some DMRs and that mechanisms for maintaining non-methylated status at the H19/Igf2 DMR are lost upon long exposure to mature ooplasm.

Open access

Rupsha Fraser and Chih-Jen Lin

Gametogenesis (spermatogenesis and oogenesis) is accompanied by the acquisition of gender-specific epigenetic marks, such as DNA methylation, histone modifications and regulation by small RNAs, to form highly differentiated, but transcriptionally silent cell-types in preparation for fertilisation. Upon fertilisation, extensive global epigenetic reprogramming takes place to remove the previously acquired epigenetic marks and produce totipotent zygotic states. It is the aim of this review to delineate the cellular and molecular events involved in maternal, paternal and zygotic epigenetic reprogramming from the time of gametogenesis, through fertilisation, to the initiation of zygotic genome activation for preimplantation embryonic development. Recent studies have begun to uncover the indispensable functions of epigenetic players during gametogenesis, fertilisation and preimplantation embryo development, and a more comprehensive understanding of these early events will be informative for increasing pregnancy success rates, adding particular value to assisted fertility programmes.

Open access

Katja Hummitzsch, Nicholas Hatzirodos, Anne M Macpherson, Jeff Schwartz, Raymond J Rodgers and Helen F Irving-Rodgers

The ovary has specialised stromal compartments, including the tunica albuginea, interstitial stroma and theca interna, which develops concurrently with the follicular antrum. To characterise the molecular determinants of these compartments, stroma adjacent to preantral follicles (pre-theca), interstitium and tunica albuginea were laser microdissected (n = 4 per group) and theca interna was dissected from bovine antral follicles (n = 6). RNA microarray analysis showed minimal differences between interstitial stroma and pre-theca, and these were combined for some analyses and referred to as stroma. Genes significantly upregulated in theca interna compared to stroma included INSL3, LHCGR, HSD3B1, CYP17A1, ALDH1A1, OGN, POSTN and ASPN. Quantitative RT-PCR showed significantly greater expression of OGN and LGALS1 in interstitial stroma and theca interna versus tunica and greater expression of ACD in tunica compared to theca interna. PLN was significantly higher in interstitial stroma compared to tunica and theca. Ingenuity pathway, network and upstream regulator analyses were undertaken. Cell survival was also upregulated in theca interna. The tunica albuginea was associated with GPCR and cAMP signalling, suggesting tunica contractility. It was also associated with TGF-β signalling and increased fibrous matrix. Western immunoblotting was positive for OGN, LGALS1, ALDH1A1, ACD and PLN with PLN and OGN highly expressed in tunica and interstitial stroma (each n = 6), but not in theca interna from antral follicles (n = 24). Immunohistochemistry localised LGALS1 and POSTN to extracellular matrix and PLN to smooth muscle cells. These results have identified novel differences between the ovarian stromal compartments.

Open access

Gerly Sillaste, Lauris Kaplinski, Riho Meier, Ülle Jaakma, Elo Eriste and Andres Salumets

DNA compaction with protamines in sperm is essential for successful fertilization. However, a portion of sperm chromatin remains less tightly packed with histones, which genomic location and function remain unclear. We extracted and sequenced histone-associated DNA from sperm of nine ejaculates from three bulls. We found that the fraction of retained histones varied between samples, but the variance was similar between samples from the same and different individuals. The most conserved regions showed similar abundance across all samples, whereas in other regions, their presence correlated with the size of histone fraction. This may refer to gradual histone–protamine transition, where easily accessible genomic regions, followed by the less accessible regions are first substituted by protamines. Our results confirm those from previous studies that histones remain in repetitive genome elements, such as centromeres, and added new findings of histones in rRNA and SRP RNA gene clusters and indicated histone enrichment in some spermatogenesis-associated genes, but not in genes of early embryonic development. Our functional analysis revealed significant overrepresentation of cGMP-dependent protein kinase G (cGMP-PKG) pathway genes among histone-enriched genes. This pathway is known for its importance in pre-fertilization sperm events. In summary, a novel hypothesis for gradual histone-to-protamine transition in sperm maturation was proposed. We believe that histones may contribute structural information into early embryo by epigenetically modifying centromeric chromatin and other types of repetitive DNA. We also suggest that sperm histones are retained in genes needed for sperm development, maturation and fertilization, as these genes are transcriptionally active shortly prior to histone-to-protamine transition.