Importance of sperm transition proteins demonstrated in mice carrying Tnp1- and Tnp2-null alleles

Cynthia Renee Christian Shirley, The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Houston


Chromatin condensation within the nucleus of developing spermatids involves replacement of histones by transition proteins, which are in turn replaced by protamines. The importance of transition proteins in the complex process of spermiogenesis has, to date, been only speculative. This study sought to investigate the extent to which transition proteins are essential or have redundant functions by characterizing sperm produced in mice expressing all combinations of Tnp-null alleles. Results from breeding trials of 8 weeks duration revealed that, on average, wildtype males produced about 14 offspring whereas TP2 and TP1 single-knockout males produced about 8 and 1 offspring, respectively, demonstrating their subfertility. Genotypes with less than two Tnp wildtype alleles, as well as double-knockout mutants, were completely infertile. Sperm from males with impaired fertility had poor progressive motility, heterogeneous chromatin condensation, incompletely processed protamine 2 and head and tail abnormalities. Generally, as the number of Tnp-null alleles increased so did the severity of abnormalities. However, specific morphological abnormalities were associated with the absence of an individual TP. Studies which sought to identify possible root causes for abnormalities in thiol-rich sperm structures revealed no differences in thiol content or sulfhydryl oxidation status within the nucleus but nuclei and tails from single-knockout mutants were severely disrupted following thiol reduction. Binding of fluorescent dyes to DNA was normal in sperm recovered from caput but abnormal in cauda epididymal sperm from TP1 knockouts and infertile double mutants. Injection of cauda epididymal sperm from double knockouts into oocytes produced very few offspring; however, after injection with testicular sperm, the efficiency was no different from wildtype. These results suggest DNA structural alterations or degradation during epididymal transport of sperm resulting in a diminished capacity of the paternal DNA of these sperm to produce offspring. The overall importance of transition proteins for normal chromatin condensation and production of fertile sperm has been demonstrated. Furthermore, identification of specific morphological abnormalities associated with the absence of an individual transition protein provides new evidence that the proteins are not completely redundant and each fulfills some unique function.

Subject Area

Cellular biology

Recommended Citation

Shirley, Cynthia Renee Christian, "Importance of sperm transition proteins demonstrated in mice carrying Tnp1- and Tnp2-null alleles" (2003). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI3081470.