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Yi Zheng, Yaqing Zhang, Rongfeng Qu, Ying He, Xiue Tian, and Wenxian Zeng

Spermatogenesis, an elaborate and male-specific process in adult testes by which a number of spermatozoa are produced constantly for male fertility, relies on spermatogonial stem cells (SSCs). As a sub-population of undifferentiated spermatogonia, SSCs are capable of both self-renewal (to maintain sufficient quantities) and differentiation into mature spermatozoa. SSCs are able to convert to pluripotent stem cells during in vitro culture, thus they could function as substitutes for human embryonic stem cells without ethical issues. In addition, this process does not require exogenous transcription factors necessary to produce induced-pluripotent stem cells from somatic cells. Moreover, combining genetic engineering with germ cell transplantation would greatly facilitate the generation of transgenic animals. Since germ cell transplantation into infertile recipient testes was first established in 1994, in vivo and in vitro study and manipulation of SSCs in rodent testes have been progressing at a staggering rate. By contrast, their counterparts in domestic animals, despite the failure to reach a comparable level, still burgeoned and showed striking advances. This review outlines the recent progressions of characterization, isolation, in vitro propagation, and transplantation of spermatogonia/SSCs from domestic animals, thereby shedding light on future exploration of these cells with high value, as well as contributing to the development of reproductive technology for large animals.

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Rahul Rathi, Ali Honaramooz, Wenxian Zeng, Stefan Schlatt, and Ina Dobrinski

Spermatogenesis can occur in testis tissue from immature bulls ectopically grafted into mouse hosts; however, efficiency of sperm production is lower than in other donor species. To elucidate a possible mechanism for the impaired spermatogenesis in bovine testis xenografts, germ cell fate and xenograft development were investigated at different time points and compared with testis tissue from age-matched calves as controls. Histologically, an initial decrease in germ cell number was noticed in xenografts recovered up to 2 months post-grafting without an increase in germ cell apoptosis. From 2 months onward, the number of germ cells increased. In contrast, a continuous increase in germ cell number was seen in control tissue. Pachytene spermatocytes were observed in some grafts before 4 months, whereas in the control tissue they were not present until 5 months of age. Beyond 4 months post-grafting spermatogenesis appeared to be arrested at the pachytene spermatocyte stage in most grafts. Elongated spermatids were observed between 6 and 8 months post-grafting, similar to the controls, albeit in much lower numbers. Lumen formation started earlier in grafts compared with controls and by 6 months post-grafting tubules with extensively dilated lumen were observed. A donor effect on efficiency of spermatogenesis was also observed. These results indicate that the low efficiency of sperm production in bovine xenografts is due to an initial deficit of germ cells and impaired meiotic and post-meiotic differentiation. The characterization of spermatogenic efficiency will provide the basis to understand the control of spermatogenesis in testis grafts.

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Tiantian Liu, Pengfei Zhang, Tianjiao Li, Xiaoxu Chen, Zhenshuo Zhu, Yinghua Lyu, Xueliang Li, Xiue Tian, and Wenxian Zeng

Histone methyltransferase SETDB1 suppresses gene expression and modulates heterochromatin formation through H3K9me2/3. Previous studies have revealed that SETDB1 catalyzes lysine 9 of histone H3 tri-methylation and plays essential roles in maintaining the survival of embryonic stem cells and spermatogonial stem cells in mice. However, the function of SETDB1 in porcine male germ cells remains unclear. The aim of the present study was to reveal the expression profile and function of SETDB1 in porcine germ cells. SETDB1 expression gradually increased during testis development. SETDB1 was strongly localized in gonocytes. Knockdown of SETDB1 gene expression led to gonocyte apoptosis and a decrease in H3K27me3, but no significant change in H3K9me3. These observations suggested that SETDB1 is a novel epigenetic regulator of porcine male germ cells, and contributes to the maintenance of gonocyte survival in pigs, probably due to the regulation of H3K27me3 rather than H3K9me3. These findings will provide a theoretical basis for the future study of epigenetic regulation of spermatogenesis.

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Xiaoxu Chen, Qian Sun, Yi Zheng, Zidong Liu, Xiangqian Meng, Wenxian Zeng, and Hongzhao Lu

Infertility caused by male factors is routinely diagnosed by assessing traditional semen parameters. Growing evidence has indicated that the tsRNAs carried in sperm act as epigenetic factors and potential biomarkers for the assessment of sperm quality. We recently demonstrated that tRNAGln-TTG derived small RNAs played notable roles in the first cleavage of a porcine embryo. However, the function of human sperm tRNAGln-TTG derived small RNAs as a diagnostic biomarker and its role in early embryo development remains unclear. In this study, we found that human sperm tRNAGln-TTG derived small RNAs were highly associated with sperm quality. By microinjecting the antisense sequence into human tripronuclear (3PN) zygotes followed by single-cell RNA-sequencing, we found that human sperm tRNAGln-TTG derived small RNAs participated in the development of a human embryo. Furthermore, Gln-TTGs might influence embryonic genome activation by modulating noncoding RNA processing. These findings demonstrated that human sperm tRNAGln-TTG derived small RNAs could be potential diagnostic biomarkers and could be used as a clinical target for male infertility.

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Xiaoxu Chen, Dongxue Che, Pengfei Zhang, Xueliang Li, Qingqing Yuan, Tiantian Liu, Jiayin Guo, Tongying Feng, Ligang Wu, Minzhi Liao, Zuping He, and Wenxian Zeng

Spermatogenesis includes mitosis of spermatogonia, meiosis of pachytene spermatocytes and spermiogenesis of round spermatids. MiRNAs as a ~22 nt small noncoding RNA are involved in regulating spermatogenesis at post-transcriptional level. However, the dynamic miRNAs expression in the developmental porcine male germ cells remains largely undefined. In this study, we purified porcine spermatogonia, pachytene spermatocytes and round spermatids using a STA-PUT apparatus. A small RNA deep sequencing and analysis were conducted to establish a miRNAs profiling in these male germ cells. We found that 19 miRNAs were differentially expressed between spermatogonia and pachytene spermatocytes, and 74 miRNAs differentially expressed between pachytene spermatocytes and round spermatids. Furthermore, 91 miRNAs were upregulated, while 108 miRNAs were downregulated in spermatozoa. We demonstrated that ssc-miR-10a-5p, ssc-miR-125b, ssc-let-7f and ssc-miR-186 were highly expressed in spermatogonia, pachytene spermatocytes, round spermatids and spermatozoa respectively. The findings could provide novel insights into roles of miRNAs in regulation of porcine spermatogenesis.