Almost devoid of cytoplasm, sperm have the vast majority of their proteins present on the plasma membrane (PM). Many of these proteins are fertility-modulating and in the absence of synthetic machinery sperm acquire them from the epididymis during their post-testicular maturation. To date, the majority of epididymally-acquired sperm proteins identified are glycosyl phosphatidylinositol-(GPI)-linked to the outer leaflet of th PM's lipid bilayer. However, it has recently been reported that transmembrane (TM) proteins are also epididymally-expressed and present on membranous vesicles that are known to transfer GPI-linked proteins to sperm. Past research in the DeLeon Lab has contributed to an understanding of the mechanisms of sperm uptake of GPI-linked epididymal proteins, and we are now poised to launch an investigation for TM proteins which, due to their folded nature, are unlikely to be acquired by the mechanisms employed by GPI- linked proteins. In this application we focus on PMCA4 (Plasma Membrane Ca2+-ATPase 4), a 10 TM protein, whose 4b isoform is the major Ca2+ efflux pump in murine sperm where its absence leads to loss of motility and to infertility. Exciting Preliminary results indicate murine epididymal expression of the mRNA for the 4b as well as the 4a isoform which is more efficient in clearing Ca2+ and maintaining homeostasis. We also show that PMCA4a is present in caudal epididymal luminal fluid (ELF) and interestingly, more abundant in caudal than caput sperm. Our central hypothesis is that PMCA4 is expressed in the epididymis and is secreted in the epididymal luminal fluid (ELF) where it is acquired on the sperm surface for their maturation and function. Using Pmca4 null and wild-type (WT) mice, our Specific Aims in this R03 application are: 1) To investigate the expression pattern and secretion of PMCA4 in all three regions of the murine epididymis by analyzing the mRNA and protein isoforms in tissues as well as in ELF and sperm, and 2) To determine if, and how, PMCA4/a is acquired in vitro on the surface of WT and Pmca4 null caudal sperm, and if acquisition increases PMCA4 enzymatic activity, Ca2+ clearance, and motility. We will focus on the role of membranous vesicles or epididymosomes, in delivering PMCA4/a to the sperm surface, assisted by the presence of CD9 tetraspanin which mediates cell-to-cell protein transfer via membrane fusion. Sperm PM - vesicle interaction will be visualized in ultrastructural images using immunogold labeling to begin to understand the process of delivery of PMCA4 to the PM. Together, these experiments will provide new information on the mechanism of uptake of TM proteins and the role of epididymal PMCA4a in sperm maturation and function. Pilot data from this exploratory project will allow us to apply (through the R01 mechanism) for funding to fully mechanistically elucidate the role of vesicles in the delivery of PMCA4a and other TM proteins, and to determine the possibility of using artificial vesicles in ART (assisted reproductive technology) to deliver the proteins to deficient sperm to improve their fertilizing capabilities, via IVF.
Reduced sperm motility or asthenozoospermia is a primary cause of male infertility and occurs in mice due to the absence of PMCA4b (Plasma Membrane Ca2+-ATPase 4b), a transmembrane (TM) protein which is the major Ca2+ efflux pump. PMCA4 is expressed in the testis and we have preliminarily shown that the mRNAs for its isoforms, Pmca4a, b, are expressed in the sperm ducts or epididymis. We will determine if PMCA4a is secreted in the epididymal luminal fluid and transferred to sperm during their maturation in the ducts, to increase their ability for Ca2+ efflux and motility. To date, sperm uptake of TM proteins and the underlying mechanism have never been studied. This will be pursued in this application to gain insights into potential therapeutic applications for sperm lacking these proteins.
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