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Yue Liu and Zhide Ding

Obesity, defined as excessive accumulation of fat in adipose tissue, is a metabolic disorder resulting from behavioral, environmental and heritable causes. Obesity increases the risks of hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, sleep apnea, respiratory problems, osteoarthritis and cancer. Meanwhile, the negative impact of obesity on male reproduction is gradually recognized. According to the clinical investigations and animal experiments, obesity is correlated with reductions in sperm concentration and motility, increase in sperm DNA damage and changes in reproductive hormones. Several mechanisms can elucidate the effects of obesity on sperm functions and male subfertility, i.e., the excessive conversion of androgens into estrogens in redundant adipose tissue causes sexual hormone imbalance, subsequently resulting in hypogonadism. Secondly, adipokines produced by adipose tissue induce severe inflammation and oxidative stress in male reproductive tract, directly impairing testicular and epididymal tissues. Moreover, increased scrotal adiposity leads to increase gonadal heat, continuously hurting spermatogenesis. Therefore, obesity alters the systematic and regional environment crucial for spermatogenesis in testis and sperm maturation in epididymis, and finally results in poor sperm quality including decreased sperm motility, abnormal sperm morphology and acrosome reaction, changed membrane lipids and increased DNA damage. Furthermore, recent studies indicate that epigenetic changes may be a consequence of increased adiposity. A major effort to identify epigenetic determinants of obesity revealed that sperm DNA methylation and non-coding RNA modification are associated with BMI changes and proposed to inherit metabolic comorbidities across generations. This review will explain how obesity-related changes in males to influence sperm function and male fertility as well.

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Wei Guo, Fei Qu, Li Xia, Qiangsu Guo, Xiaoqian Ying, and Zhide Ding

The mammalian epididymis is able to create sequential changes in the composition of luminal fluid throughout its length, wherein spermatozoa undergo morphological, biochemical, and physiological modifications. Subsequently, spermatozoa acquire the ability for fertilization upon reaching the epididymal cauda. In this study, protein variations in Sprague–Dawley rat spermatozoa along the caput and caudal regions of epididymis were investigated by high-resolution two-dimensional gel electrophoresis (2DE) in combination with mass spectrometry. From total protein spots on the 2DE maps, 43 spots were shown to be significantly modified as sperm traverse the epididymis, and seven unambiguous proteins were identified from them. Finally, using indirect immunofluorescence, we demonstrated that localization of one of these seven proteins, the endoplasmic reticulum protein (ERp29) precursor, which was first reported in mammalian spermatozoa, was apparently up-regulated as the sperm underwent epididymal maturation and expressed mainly on caudal sperm. Western blot analysis also revealed that ERp29 precursor, from both whole spermatozoa and membrane proteins, increased significantly as the sperm underwent epididymal maturation. Furthermore, the results from immunofluorescence-stained epididymal frozen sections demonstrated that ERp29 was localized in cytoplasm of epididymal epithelia, and the fluorescence intensity was significantly higher in the caudal epididymis than in the caput. These clues indicated that the ERp29 precursor, perhaps related to secretory protein synthesis and absorbed by spermatozoa, may play a vital role in sperm maturation during the epididymal transit, particularly, in the sperm/organelle membrane.

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Fei Qu, Xiaoqian Ying, Wei Guo, Qiangsu Guo, Guowu Chen, Yue Liu, and Zhide Ding

Sperm motility is essential for male reproduction or natural fertilization. The cyclic AMP (cAMP)/cAMP-dependent protein kinase A (PKA) signaling pathway is generally recognized as one of the significant signaling pathways in the regulation of mammalian spermatozoan motility. Since Zn-α2-glycoprotein (ZAG) activity in mammalian adipose tissue is mediated via the β3-adrenoreceptor, with upregulation of the cAMP pathway, we hypothesize that ZAG may play the same role in sperm motility regulation, a new factor of regulation of sperm motility. Therefore, the gene encoding human ZAG was cloned and polyclonal antibodies were generated, and then laser scanning confocal microscopy and flow cytometry were employed to identify this protein in human spermatozoa. The results showed that ZAG protein was mostly localized on the pre-equatorial region covering the acrosome, neck, and middle piece of the flagellum of spermatozoa. Furthermore, using computer-assisted sperm analysis, we found that anti-human ZAG antibodies could significantly reduce the motility of human swim-up spermatozoa after 90- or 120-min incubation (P<0.05 and P<0.01 respectively), together with the decreasing of intracellular cAMP and PKA levels. In conclusion, these data suggest that ZAG is present in human spermatozoa and may be involved in the regulation of sperm motility via the cAMP/PKA signaling pathway.

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Yali Xu, Yong Fan, Weimin Fan, Jia Jing, Ke Xue, Xing Zhang, Bin Ye, Yingjie Ji, Yue Liu, and Zhide Ding

Asthenozoospermia is one of the leading causes of male infertility owing to a decline in sperm motility. Herein, we determined if there is a correlation between RNASET2 content on human spermatozoa and sperm motility in 205 semen samples from both asthenozoospermia patients and normozoospermia individuals. RNASET2 content was higher in sperm from asthenozoospermia patients than in normozoospermia individuals. On the other hand, its content was inversely correlated with sperm motility as well as progressive motility. Moreover, the inhibitory effect of RNASET2 on sperm motility was induced by incubating normozoospermic sperm with RNase T2 protein. Such treatment caused significant declines in intracellular spermatozoa PKA activity, PI3K activity and calcium level, which resulted in severely impaired sperm motility, and the sperm motility was largely rescued by cAMP supplementation. Finally, protein immunoprecipitation and mass spectrometry identified proteins whose interactions with RNASET2 were associated with declines in human spermatozoa motility. AKAP4, a protein regulating PKA activity, coimmunoprecipated with RNASET2 and they colocalized with one another in the sperm tail, which might contribute to reduced sperm motility. Thus, RNASET2 may be a novel biomarker of asthenozoospermia. Increases in RNASET2 can interact with AKAP4 in human sperm tail and subsequently reduce sperm motility by suppressing PKA/PI3K/calcium signaling pathways.