The development of tools to manipulate the mouse genome, including knockout and transgenic technology, has revolutionized our ability to explore gene function in mammals. Moreover, for genes that are expressed in multiple tissues or at multiple stages of development, the use of tissue-specific expression of the Cre recombinase allows gene function to be perturbed in specific cell types and/or at specific times. However, it is well known that putative tissue-specific promoters often drive unanticipated 'off target' expression. In our efforts to explore the biology of the male reproductive tract, we unexpectedly found that expression of Cre in the central nervous system resulted in recombination in the epididymis, a tissue where sperm mature for ~1-2 weeks following the completion of testicular development. Remarkably, we not only observed reporter expression in the epididymis when Cre expression was driven from neuron-specific transgenes, but also when Cre expression in the brain was induced from an AAV vector carrying a Cre expression construct. A surprisingly wide range of Cre drivers - including six different neuronal promoters as well as the adipose-specific Adipoq Cre promoter - exhibited off target recombination in the epididymis, with a subset of drivers also exhibiting unexpected activity in other tissues such as the reproductive accessory glands. Using a combination of parabiosis and serum transfer experiments, we find evidence supporting the hypothesis that Cre may be trafficked from its cell of origin to the epididymis through the circulatory system. Together, our findings should motivate extreme caution when interpreting conditional alleles, and suggest the exciting possibility of inter-tissue RNA or protein trafficking in modulation of reproductive biology.
A representative subset of the raw image data (with supporting metadata) will be made publicly available on acceptance. Source data for gels/blots has been provided.
- Vera RInaldi
- Bethany C Berry
- Shweta Kukreja
- Oliver J Rando
- Kathleen Desevin
- Fengyun Sun
- Oliver J Rando
- Andrew R Tapper
- Kathleen Messemer
- Amy J Wagers
The funders had no role in study design, data collection and interpretation, or the decision to submit the work for publication.
Animal experimentation: All animal use was approved by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees of UMass Chan Medical School and Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences, under protocol PROTO202100029 to Dr. Oliver Rando and protocol 29014 awarded to Dr. Amy Wagers.
- Brett Nixon
© 2023, RInaldi et al.
This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License permitting unrestricted use and redistribution provided that the original author and source are credited.
Imaging experiments reveal the complex and dynamic nature of the transcriptional hubs associated with Notch signaling.
Cylicins are testis-specific proteins, which are exclusively expressed during spermiogenesis. In mice and humans, two Cylicins, the gonosomal X-linked Cylicin 1 (Cylc1/CYLC1) and the autosomal Cylicin 2 (Cylc2/CYLC2) genes, have been identified. Cylicins are cytoskeletal proteins with an overall positive charge due to lysine-rich repeats. While Cylicins have been localized in the acrosomal region of round spermatids, they resemble a major component of the calyx within the perinuclear theca at the posterior part of mature sperm nuclei. However, the role of Cylicins during spermiogenesis has not yet been investigated. Here, we applied CRISPR/Cas9-mediated gene editing in zygotes to establish Cylc1- and Cylc2-deficient mouse lines as a model to study the function of these proteins. Cylc1 deficiency resulted in male subfertility, whereas Cylc2-/-, Cylc1-/yCylc2+/-, and Cylc1-/yCylc2-/- males were infertile. Phenotypical characterization revealed that loss of Cylicins prevents proper calyx assembly during spermiogenesis. This results in decreased epididymal sperm counts, impaired shedding of excess cytoplasm, and severe structural malformations, ultimately resulting in impaired sperm motility. Furthermore, exome sequencing identified an infertile man with a hemizygous variant in CYLC1 and a heterozygous variant in CYLC2, displaying morphological abnormalities of the sperm including the absence of the acrosome. Thus, our study highlights the relevance and importance of Cylicins for spermiogenic remodeling and male fertility in human and mouse, and provides the basis for further studies on unraveling the complex molecular interactions between perinuclear theca proteins required during spermiogenesis.