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Peter Sutovsky

The omnipresent ubiquitin–proteasome system (UPS) is an ATP-dependent enzymatic machinery that targets substrate proteins for degradation by the 26S proteasome by tagging them with an isopeptide chain composed of covalently linked molecules of ubiquitin, a small chaperone protein. The current knowledge of UPS involvement in the process of sperm penetration through vitelline coat (VC) during human and animal fertilization is reviewed in this study, with attention also being given to sperm capacitation and acrosome reaction/exocytosis. In ascidians, spermatozoa release ubiquitin-activating and conjugating enzymes, proteasomes, and unconjugated ubiquitin to first ubiquitinate and then degrade the sperm receptor on the VC; in echinoderms and mammals, the VC (zona pellucida/ZP in mammals) is ubiquitinated during oogenesis and the sperm receptor degraded during fertilization. Various proteasomal subunits and associated enzymes have been detected in spermatozoa and localized to sperm acrosome and other sperm structures. By using specific fluorometric substrates, proteasome-specific proteolytic and deubiquitinating activities can be measured in live, intact spermatozoa and in sperm protein extracts. The requirement of proteasomal proteolysis during fertilization has been documented by the application of various proteasome-specific inhibitors and antibodies. A similar effect was achieved by depletion of sperm-surface ATP. Degradation of VC/ZP-associated sperm receptor proteins by sperm-borne proteasomes has been demonstrated in ascidians and sea urchins. On the applied side, polyspermy has been ameliorated by modulating sperm-associated deubiquitinating enzymes. Diagnostic and therapeutic applications could emerge in human reproductive medicine. Altogether, the studies on sperm proteasome indicate that animal fertilization is controlled in part by a unique, gamete associated, extracellular UPS.

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Michal Zigo, Vera Jonakova, Pavla Manaskova-Postlerova, Karl Kerns and Peter Sutovsky

We studied the participation of the ubiquitin-proteasome system (UPS) in spermadhesin release during in vitro capacitation (IVC) of domestic boar spermatozoa. At ejaculation, boar spermatozoa acquire low molecular weight (8–16 kDa) seminal plasma proteins, predominantly spermadhesins, aggregated on the sperm surface. Due to their arrangement, such aggregates are relatively inaccessible to antibody labeling. As a result of de-aggregation and release of the outer layers of spermadhesins from the sperm surface during IVC, antibody labeling becomes feasible in the capacitated spermatozoa. In vivo, the capacitation-induced shedding of spermadhesins from the sperm surface is associated with the release of spermatozoa from the oviductal sperm reservoir. We took advantage of this property to perform image-based flow cytometry to study de-aggregation and shedding of boar spermadhesins (AQN, AWN, PSP protein families) and boar DQH (BSP1) sperm surface protein which induces higher fluorescent intensity in capacitated vs ejaculated spermatozoa. Addition of a proteasomal inhibitor (100 µM MG132) during IVC significantly reduced fluorescence intensity of all studied proteins (P < 0.05) compared to vehicle control IVC. Western blot detection of spermadhesins did not support their retention during IVC with proteasomal inhibition (P > 0.99) but showed the accumulation of DQH (P = 0.03) during IVC, compared to vehicle control IVC. Our results thus demonstrate that UPS participates in the de-aggregation of spermadhesins and DQH protein from the sperm surface during capacitation, with a possible involvement in sperm detachment from the oviductal sperm reservoir and/or sperm-zona pellucida interactions. The activity of sperm UPS modulates de-aggregation of boar spermadhesins and DQH sperm surface protein/binder of sperm1 (BSP1) during the sperm capacitation.

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Peter Sutovsky, Gaurishankar Manandhar, Jozef Laurincik, Juraj Letko, Jose Nestor Caamaño, Billy N Day, Liangxue Lai, Randall S Prather, Kathy L Sharpe-Timms, Randall Zimmer and Miriam Sutovsky

Major vault protein (MVP), also called lung resistance-related protein is a ribonucleoprotein comprising a major part (>70%) of the vault particle. The function of vault particle is not known, although it appears to be involved in multi-drug resistance and cellular signaling. Here we show that MVP is expressed in mammalian, porcine, and human ova and in the porcine preimplantation embryo. MVP was identified by matrix-assisted laser-desorption ionization-time-of-flight (MALDI-TOF) peptide sequencing and Western blotting as a protein accumulating in porcine zygotes cultured in the presence of specific proteasomal inhibitor MG132. MVP also accumulated in poor-quality human oocytes donated by infertile couples and porcine embryos that failed to develop normally after in vitro fertilization or somatic cell nuclear transfer. Normal porcine oocytes and embryos at various stages of preimplantation development showed mostly cytoplasmic labeling, with increased accumulation of vault particles around large cytoplasmic lipid inclusions and membrane vesicles. Occasionally, MVP was associated with the nuclear envelope and nucleolus precursor bodies. Nucleotide sequences with a high degree of homology to human MVP gene sequence were identified in porcine oocyte and endometrial cell cDNA libraries. We interpret these data as the evidence for the expression and ubiquitin-proteasome-dependent turnover of MVP in the mammalian ovum. Similar to carcinoma cells, MVP could fulfill a cell-protecting function during early embryonic development.

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Mika Katayama, Peter Sutovsky, Boh S Yang, Tom Cantley, August Rieke, Randy Farwell, Richard Oko and Billy N Day

The effects of sperm-immobilization methods on decondensation of sperm chromatin and retention of subacrosomal sperm perinuclear theca (SAR-PT) after intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) were examined in pigs. Sperm membrane damage caused by different immobilization methods by rubbing with a micropipette without piezo pulses (R), or with a low (L) or high (H) intensity of piezo pulses while rubbing, was assessed by the time required for staining of sperm heads with eosin Y solution. The average time for staining of sperm heads immobilized by the R, L or H treatments was 76, 41 or 26 s, respectively. The fertilization rate following ICSI was increased by sperm immobilization by piezo pulses compared with R, but increased intensity of pulses from L to H did not cause further improvements (29, 48 and 47%, respectively). An immunofluorescence study revealed that H immobilization promoted the dissociation of SAR-PT from sperm chromatin compared with L and R, and it increased the frequency of male pronuclear formation in which chromatin appeared uniformly decondensed. With in vitro fertilization (IVF), SAR-PT disassembled coordinately with sperm chromatin decondensation and it was not detectable around male pronuclei. This was different from most of the oocytes after ICSI in which remnants SAR-PT were detected adjacent to male pronuclei. We concluded that increased damage on the sperm plasma membrane at immobilization improved fertilization rates and decondensation of sperm chromatin after ICSI due to the accelerated dissociation of SAR-PT from the sperm nucleus. Also, the behavior of SAR-PT after ICSI was different from that observed in oocytes after IVF.