Age-dependent alterations in spermatogenesis in itchy mice
MetadataShow full item record
Spermatogenesis is an intricate process that strongly depends on the rapid turnover of short-lived proteins, both in the differentiating germ cells and in the supportive Sertoli cells. Recent evidence has demonstrated the importance of the ubiquitin-proteasome system for this turnover, with the final enzymatic E3 ligase providing the target specificity. One E3 ligase, Itch, has been well characterized in the immune system, but its role during spermatogenesis is not yet well understood. Mice lacking functional Itch protein display a late onset autoimmune disease characterized by severe inflammation, infiltration of immune cells into various organs, and most apparently chronic dermatitis, ultimately dying from pulmonary inflammation at 6 to 9 months of age. The work presented here evaluates the testes of itchy mice at two developmental time points, during the peri-pubertal period at postnatal day (PND) 28 and at adulthood, PND 56. Itchy mice are smaller in size and have lower spermatid head counts, most likely resulting from an increase in germ cell apoptosis rather than a decrease in Sertoli cell number. Litter sizes are reduced in the homozygous itchy colonies, with data suggesting a defect during fetal development and not in gamete production, although survival rates tend to be similar to that of wild type. At PND 28, itchy mice show a delay in spermatogenesis and an increase in meiotic figures, while PND 56 mice show alterations in germ cell layers, spermatid head formation, and irregular cell division. Examination of the previously identified targets of Itch revealed no significant increases in the testis, but led to discovery of immunoglobulin (IgG) deposits within the interstitial space. Changes in protein expression outside of the seminiferous epithelium suggest that cells of the immune system may be influencing proper development and functional spermatogenesis in the testis. While the previous studies using the itchy mice focused primarily on the late onset autoimmune dysfunction in these animals, increased spleen weights and changes in testicular protein are observed as early as PND 28, indicating that the loss of Itch impacts these animals much earlier during development. Taken together, these data indicate that Itch is required for functional spermatogenesis and that it may play different cellular roles depending on the developmental age of the animal. Future work is targeted at identifying the possible testis-specific targets of Itch and deciphering whether the observed phenotypes are the result of the primary loss of Itch or are a secondary effect from the overactive immune system.