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Zhangsheng Yang, Hirotaka Yoshioka, and John R McCarrey

The phosphoglycerate kinase-2 (Pgk2) gene is regulated in a tissue-, cell type-, and developmental stage-specific manner during spermatogenesis and is required for normal sperm motility and fertility in mammals. Activation of Pgk2 transcription is regulated by testis-specific demethylation of DNA and binding of testis-specific transcription factors to enhancer and core promoter elements. Here, we show that chromatin remodeling including reconfiguration of nucleosomes and changes in histone modifications is also associated with transcriptional activation of the Pgk2 gene during spermatogenesis. Developmental studies indicate that the order of events involved in transcriptional activation of the Pgk2 gene includes demethylation of DNA in T1- and T2-prospermatogonia, binding of a factor to the CAAT box in type A and B spermatogonia, followed by recruitment of chromatin remodeling factors, displacement of a nucleosome from the Pgk2 promoter region, binding of factors to the Pgk2 core promoter and enhancer regions, and, finally, initiation of transcription in primary spermatocytes. Transgene studies show that Pgk2 core promoter elements are required to direct demethylation of DNA and reconfiguration of nucleosomes, whereas both enhancer and core promoter elements are required to direct changes in histone modifications and initiation of transcription. These results provide novel insight into the developmental order of molecular events required to activate tissue-specific transcription of the Pgk2 gene, the distinct elements in the 5′-regulatory region of the Pgk2 gene that regulate each of these events, and the relationship among these events in that each step in this process appears to be a necessary prerequisite for the subsequent step.

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Shinnosuke Suzuki, John R McCarrey, and Brian P Hermann

Initiation of spermatogonial differentiation in the mouse testis begins with the response to retinoic acid (RA) characterized by activation of KIT and STRA8 expression. In the adult, spermatogonial differentiation is spatiotemporally coordinated by a pulse of RA every 8.6 days that is localized to stages VII–VIII of the seminiferous epithelial cycle. Dogmatically, progenitor spermatogonia that express retinoic acid receptor gamma (RARG) at these stages will differentiate in response to RA, but this has yet to be tested functionally. Previous single-cell RNA-seq data identified phenotypically and functionally distinct subsets of spermatogonial stem cells (SSCs) and progenitor spermatogonia, where late progenitor spermatogonia were defined by expression of RARG and Dppa3. Here, we found late progenitor spermatogonia (RARGhigh KIT−) were further divisible into two subpopulations based on Dppa3 reporter expression (Dppa3-ECFP or Dppa3-EGFP) and were observed across all stages of the seminiferous epithelial cycle. However, nearly all Dppa3+ spermatogonia were differentiating (KIT+) late in the seminiferous epithelial cycle (stages X–XII), while Dppa3− late progenitors remained abundant, suggesting that Dppa3+ and Dppa3− late progenitors differentially responded to RA. Following acute RA treatment (2–4 h), significantly more Dppa3+ late progenitors induced KIT, including at the midpoint of the cycle (stages VI–IX), than Dppa3− late progenitors. Subsequently, single-cell analyses indicated a subset of Dppa3+ late progenitors expressed higher levels of Rxra, which we confirmed by RXRA whole-mount immunostaining. Together, these results indicate RARG alone is insufficient to initiate a spermatogonial response to RA in the adult mouse testis and suggest differential RXRA expression may discriminate responding cells.

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Hye-Won Song, Christina T Dann, John R McCarrey, Marvin L Meistrich, Gail A Cornwall, and Miles F Wilkinson

Homeobox genes encode transcription factors that regulate diverse developmental events. The largest known homeobox gene cluster – the X-linked mouse reproductive homeobox (Rhox) cluster – harbors genes whose expression patterns and functions are largely unknown. Here, we report that a member of this cluster, Rhox10, is expressed in male germ cells. Rhox10 is highly transcribed in spermatogonia in vivo and is upregulated in response to the differentiation-inducing agent retinoic acid in vitro. Using a specific RHOX10 antiserum that we generated, we found that RHOX10 protein is selectively expressed in fetal gonocytes, germline stem cells, spermatogonia, and early spermatocytes. RHOX10 protein undergoes a dramatic shift in subcellular localization as germ cells progress from mitotically arrested gonocytes to mitotic spermatogonia and from mitotic spermatogonia to early meiotic spermatocytes, consistent with RHOX10 performing different functions in these stages.