We previously demonstrated that mammalian spermatozoa contain a nuclease activity that cleaves DNA into loop-sized fragments. We show here that this activity is mediated by a nuclear matrix-associated topoisomerase IIB (TOP2B) interacting with an extracellular Mn2 /Ca2 -dependent nuclease. Together, these enzymes cleave all of the DNA into fragments of 50 kb, and this cleavage can be reversed by EDTA. If dithiothreitol is included, the nuclease digests the DNA, and if the protamines are removed the DNA is completely digested. A similar, TOP2B-mediated, chromatin fragmentation, which is reversible, followed by digestion of the DNA by an intracellular nuclease occurs in somatic cells during apoptosis. The extracellular location of the sperm nuclease made it possible to reconstitute the fragmentation activity in isolated spermatozoa, thus allowing us to identify two novel aspects of the mechanism. First, the fragmentation of all of the DNA to 50 kb by TOP2B required the addition of the extracellular nuclease or factor. Second, the subsequent, complete digestion of the DNA by the nuclease could be inhibited by etoposide, suggesting that the nuclease digestion requires TOP2B religation of the cleaved DNA. These data are the first demonstration of an active TOP2B in spermatozoa, suggesting this inert chromatin may be more active than previously thought. They also show that the unique chromatin structure of spermatozoa may provide an important model to study the regulated degradation of chromatin by TOP2B and associated nucleases.
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