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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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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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Yi Zheng, Aldo Jongejan, Callista L Mulder, Sebastiaan Mastenbroek, Sjoerd Repping, Yinghua Wang, Jinsong Li, and Geert Hamer

Spermatogenesis, starting with spermatogonial differentiation, is characterized by ongoing and dramatic alterations in composition and function of chromatin. Failure to maintain proper chromatin dynamics during spermatogenesis may lead to mutations, chromosomal aberrations or aneuploidies. When transmitted to the offspring, these can cause infertility or congenital malformations. The structural maintenance of chromosomes (SMC) 5/6 protein complex has recently been described to function in chromatin modeling and genomic integrity maintenance during spermatogonial differentiation and meiosis. Among the subunits of the SMC5/6 complex, non-SMC element 2 (NSMCE2) is an important small ubiquitin-related modifier (SUMO) ligase. NSMCE2 has been reported to be essential for mouse development, prevention of cancer and aging in adult mice and topological stress relief in human somatic cells. By using in vitro cultured primary mouse spermatogonial stem cells (SSCs), referred to as male germline stem (GS) cells, we investigated the function of NSMCE2 during spermatogonial proliferation and differentiation. We first optimized a protocol to generate genetically modified GS cell lines using CRISPR-Cas9 and generated an Nsmce2 −/− GS cell line. Using this Nsmce2 −/− GS cell line, we found that NSMCE2 was dispensable for proliferation, differentiation and topological stress relief in mouse GS cells. Moreover, RNA sequencing analysis demonstrated that the transcriptome was only minimally affected by the absence of NSMCE2. Only differential expression of Sgsm1 appeared highly significant, but with SGSM1 protein levels being unaffected without NSMCE2. Hence, despite the essential roles of NSMCE2 in somatic cells, chromatin integrity maintenance seems differentially regulated in the germline.

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Qiao-Song Zheng, Xiao-Na Wang, Qing Wen, Yan Zhang, Su-Ren Chen, Jun Zhang, Xi-Xia Li, Ri-Na Sha, Zhao-Yuan Hu, Fei Gao, and Yi-Xun Liu

Spermatogenesis is a complex process involving the regulation of multiple cell types. As the only somatic cell type in the seminiferous tubules, Sertoli cells are essential for spermatogenesis throughout the spermatogenic cycle. The Wilms tumor gene, Wt1, is specifically expressed in the Sertoli cells of the mouse testes. In this study, we demonstrated that Wt1 is required for germ cell differentiation in the developing mouse testes. At 10 days post partum, Wt1-deficient testes exhibited clear meiotic arrest and undifferentiated spermatogonia accumulation in the seminiferous tubules. In addition, the expression of claudin11, a marker and indispensable component of Sertoli cell integrity, was impaired in Wt1 −/flox; Cre-ER TM testes. This observation was confirmed in in vitro testis cultures. However, the basal membrane of the seminiferous tubules in Wt1-deficient testes was not affected. Based on these findings, we propose that Sertoli cells' status is affected in Wt1-deficient mice, resulting in spermatogenesis failure.

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Xue-Ying Zhang, Yi-Meng Xiong, Ya-Jing Tan, Li Wang, Rong Li, Yong Zhang, Xin-Mei Liu, Xian-Hua Lin, Li Jin, Yu-Ting Hu, Zhen-Hua Tang, Zheng-Mu Wu, Feng-Hua Yin, Zheng-Quan Wang, Ye Xiao, Jian-Zhong Sheng, and He-Feng Huang

Fertilization failure often occurs during in vitro fertilization (IVF) cycles despite apparently normal sperm and oocytes. Accumulating evidence suggests that mitochondria play crucial roles in the regulation of sperm function and male fertility. 3-Nitrophthalic acid (3-NPA) can induce oxidative stress in mitochondria, and melatonin, as an antioxidant, can improve mitochondrial function by reducing mitochondrial oxidative stress. The role of sperm mitochondrial dysfunction in fertilization failure during IVF is unclear. The present study revealed that spermatozoa with low, or poor, fertilization rates had swollen mitochondria, increased mitochondria-derived ROS, and attenuated mitochondrial respiratory capacity. 3-NPA treatment enhanced mitochondrial dysfunction in sperm. Spermatozoa with poor fertilization rates, and spermatozoa treated with 3-NPA, had reduced penetration ability. The concentration of melatonin was decreased in semen samples with low and poor fertilization rates. Melatonin, not only decreased excessive mitochondria-derived ROS, but also ‘rescued’ the reduced penetration capacity of spermatozoa treated with 3-NPA. Taken together, the study suggested that mitochondria-derived ROS and mitochondrial respiratory capacity are independent bio-markers for sperm dysfunction, and melatonin may be useful in improving sperm quality and overall male fertility.