Spermatozoa (SPZ) are motile cells, characterized by a cargo of epigenetic information including histone post-translational modifications (histone PTMs) and non-coding RNAs. Specific histone PTMs are present in developing germ cells, with a key role in spermatogenic events such as self-renewal and commitment of spermatogonia (SPG), meiotic recombination, nuclear condensation in spermatids (SPT). Nuclear condensation is related to chromatin remodeling events and requires a massive histone-to-protamine exchange. After this event a small percentage of chromatin is condensed by histones and SPZ contain nucleoprotamines and a small fraction of nucleohistone chromatin carrying a landascape of histone PTMs. Circular RNAs (circRNAs), a new class of non-coding RNAs, characterized by a nonlinear back-spliced junction, able to play as microRNA (miRNA) sponges, protein scaffolds and translation templates, have been recently characterized in both human and mouse SPZ. Since their abundance in eukaryote tissues, it is challenging to deepen their biological function, especially in the field of reproduction. Here we review the critical role of histone PTMs in male germ cells and the profile of circRNAs in mouse and human SPZ. Furthermore, we discuss their suggested role as novel epigenetic biomarkers to assess sperm quality and improve artificial insemination procedure.
Circular RNAs (circRNAs) are expressed in human testis and seminal plasma. Until today, there is missing information about a possible payload of circRNAs in human spermatozoa (SPZ). With this in mind, we carried out a circRNA microarray identifying a total of 10.726 transcripts, 28% novel based and 84.6% with exonic structure; their potential contribution in molecular pathways was evaluated by KEGG analysis. Whether circRNAs may be related to SPZ quality was speculated evaluating two different populations of SPZ (A SPZ = good quality, B SPZ = low quality), separated on the basis of morphology and motility parameters, by Percoll gradient. Thus, 148 differentially expressed (DE)-circRNAs were identified and the expression of selected specific SPZ-derived circRNAs was evaluated in SPZ head/tail-enriched preparations, to check the preservation of these molecules during SPZ maturation and their transfer into oocyte during fertilization. Lastly, circRNA/miRNA/mRNA network was built by bioinformatics approach.
Circular RNAs (circRNAs) have a critical role in the control of gene expression. Their function in spermatozoa (SPZ) is unknown to date. Twenty-eight genes, involved in SPZ/testicular and epididymal physiology, were given in circBase database to find which of them may generate circular transcripts. We focused on circNAPEPLDiso1, one of the circular RNA isoforms of NAPEPLD transcript, because expressed in human and murine SPZ. In order to functionally characterize circNAPEPLDiso1 as potential microRNA (miRNA) sponge, we performed circNAPEPLDiso1-miR-CATCH and then profiled the expression of 754 miRNAs, by using TaqMan® Low Density Arrays. Among them, miRNAs 146a-5p, 203a-3p, 302c-3p, 766-3p and 1260a (some of them previously shown to be expressed in the oocyte), resulted enriched in circNAPEPLDiso1-miR-CATCHed cell lysate: the network of interactions generated from their validated targets was centred on a core of genes involved in the control of cell cycle. Moreover, computational analysis of circNAPEPLDiso1 sequence also showed its potential translation in a short form of NAPEPLD protein. Interestingly, the expression analysis in murine-unfertilized oocytes revealed low and high levels of circNAPEPLDiso1 and circNAPEPLDiso2, respectively. After fertilization, circNAPEPLDiso1 expression significantly increased, instead circNAPEPLDiso2 expression appeared constant. Based on these data, we suggest that SPZ-derived circNAPEPLDiso1 physically interacts with miRNAs primarily involved in the control of cell cycle; we hypothesize that it may represent a paternal cytoplasmic contribution to the zygote and function as a miRNA decoy inside the fertilized oocytes to regulate the first stages of embryo development. This role is proposed here for the first time.
Circular RNA (circRNA) biogenesis requires a backsplicing reaction, promoted by inverted repeats in cis-flanking sequences and trans factors, such as RNA-binding proteins (RBPs). Among these, FUS plays a key role. During spermatogenesis and sperm maturation along the epididymis such a molecular mechanism has been poorly explored. With this in mind, we chose circCNOT6L as a study case and wild-type (WT) as well as cannabinoid receptor type-1 knock-out (Cb1−/−) male mice as animal models to analyze backsplicing mechanisms. Our results suggest that spermatozoa (SPZ) have an endogenous skill to circularize mRNAs, choosing FUS as modulator of backsplicing and under CB1 stimulation. A physical interaction between FUS and CNOT6L as well as a cooperation among FUS, RNA Polymerase II (RNApol2) and Quaking (QKI) take place in SPZ. Finally, to gain insight into FUS involvement in circCNOT6L biogenesis, FUS expression was reduced through RNA interference approach. Paternal transmission of FUS and CNOT6L to oocytes during fertilization was then assessed by using murine unfertilized oocytes (NF), one-cell zygotes (F) and murine oocytes undergoing parthenogenetic activation (PA) to exclude a maternal contribution. The role of circCNOT6L as an active regulator of zygote transition toward the 2-cell-like state was suggested using the Embryonic Stem Cell (ESC) system. Intriguingly, human SPZ exactly mirror murine SPZ.
The role of circRNA in reproduction is under investigation. CircRNAs are expressed in human testis, spermatozoa (SPZ), and seminal plasma. Their involvement in embryo development has also been suggested. Asthenozoospermia, a common cause of male infertility, is characterized by reduced or absent sperm motility in fresh ejaculate. While abnormal mitochondrial function, altered sperm tail, and genomic causes have been deeply investigated, the epigenetic signature of asthenozoospermic derived SPZ still remains unexplored. CircRNAs may take part in the repertoire of differentially expressed molecules in infertile men. Considering this background, we carried out a circRNA microarray, identifying a total of 9,138 transcripts, 22% of them novel based and 83.5% with an exonic structure. Using KEGG analysis, we evaluated the circRNA contribution in pathways related to mitochondrial function and sperm motility. In order to discriminate circRNAs with a differential expression in SPZ with differential morphological parameters, we separated sperm cells by Percoll gradient and analyzed their differential circRNA payload. A bioinformatic approach was then utilized to build a circRNA/miRNA/mRNA network. With the aim to demonstrate a dynamic contribution of circRNAs to the sperm epigenetic signature, we verified their modulation as a consequence of an oral amino acid supplementation, efficacious in improving SPZ motility.
Endocannabinoids are lipid mediators, enzymatically synthesized and hydrolyzed, that bind cannabinoid receptors. Together with their receptors and metabolic enzymes, they form the “endocannabinoid system” (ECS). Anandamide (AEA) and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) are the main endocannabinoids studied in testis. In this study, using the first wave of spermatogenesis as an in vivo model to verify the progressive appearance of germ cells in seminiferous tubules [i.e., spermatogonia, spermatocytes, and spermatids], we analyzed the expression of the main enzymes and receptors of ECS in rat testis. In particular, the expression profile of the main enzymes metabolizing AEA and 2-AG as well as the expression of cannabinoid receptors, such as CB1 and CB2, and specific markers of mitotic, meiotic, and post-meiotic germ cell appearance or activities have been analyzed by RT-PCR and appropriately correlated. Our aim was to envisage a relationship between expression of ECS components and temporal profile of germ cell appearance or activity as well as among ECS components. Results show that expression of ECS components is related to germ cell progression. In particular, CB2 and 2-AG appear to be related to mitotic/meiotic stages, while CB1 and AEA appear to be related to spermatogonia stem cells activity and spermatids appearance, respectively. Our data also suggest that a functional interaction among ECS components occurs in the testis. Indeed, in vitro-incubated testis show that AEA-CB2 activity affects negatively monoacylglycerol-lipase levels via upregulation of CB1 suggesting a CB1/CB2-mediated relationship between AEA and 2-AG. Finally, we provide the first evidence that CB1 is present in fetal gonocytes, during mitotic arrest.
Nuclear architecture undergoes an extensive remodeling during spermatogenesis, especially at levels of spermatocytes (SPC) and spermatids (SPT). Interestingly, typical events of spermiogenesis, such as nuclear elongation, acrosome biogenesis, and flagellum formation, need a functional cooperation between proteins of the nuclear envelope and acroplaxome/manchette structures. In addition, nuclear envelope plays a key role in chromosome distribution. In this scenario, special attention has been focused on the LINC (linker of nucleoskeleton and cytoskeleton) complex, a nuclear envelope-bridge structure involved in the connection of the nucleoskeleton to the cytoskeleton, governing mechanotransduction. It includes two integral proteins: KASH- and SUN-domain proteins, on the outer (ONM) and inner (INM) nuclear membrane, respectively. The LINC complex is involved in several functions fundamental to the correct development of sperm cells such as head formation and head to tail connection, and, therefore, it seems to be important in determining male fertility. This review provides a global overview of the main LINC complex components, with a special attention to their subcellular localization in sperm cells, their roles in the regulation of sperm morphological maturation, and, lastly, LINC complex alterations associated to male infertility.
The cannabinoid receptor CB1 regulates differentiation of spermatids. We recently characterized spermatozoa from caput epididymis of CB1-knock-out mice and identified a considerable number of sperm cells with chromatin abnormality such as elevated histone content and poorly condensed chromatin. In this paper, we extended our findings and studied the role of CB1 in the epididymal phase of chromatin condensation of spermatozoa by analysis of spermatozoa from caput and cauda epididymis of wild-type and CB1-knock-out mouse in both a homozygous or heterozygous condition. Furthermore, we studied the impact of CB1-gene deletion on histone displacement mechanism by taking into account the hyperacetylation of histone H4 and players of displacement such as Chromodomain Y Like protein (CDYL) and Bromodomain testis-specific protein (BRDT). Our results show that CB1, via local and/or endocrine cell-to-cell signaling, modulates chromatin remodeling mechanisms that orchestrate a nuclear condensation extent of mature spermatozoa. We show that CB1-gene deletion affects the epididymal phase of chromatin condensation by interfering with inter-/intra-protamine disulphide bridges formation, and deranges the efficiency of histone removal by reducing the hyper-acetylation of histone H4. This effect is independent by gene expression of Cdyl and Brdt mRNA. Our results reveal a novel and important role for CB1 in sperm chromatin condensation mechanisms.
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