Fertilization is a multistep process requiring spermatozoa with unique cellular structures and numerous germ cell-specific molecules that function in the various steps. In the highly coordinated process of male germ cell development, RNA splicing and polyadenylation help regulate gene expression to assure formation of functional spermatozoa. Male germ cells express tauCstF-64 (Cstf2t gene product), a paralog of the X-linked CstF-64 protein that supports polyadenylation in most somatic cells. We previously showed that loss of tauCstF-64 causes male infertility because of major defects in mouse spermatogenesis. Surprisingly, although Cstf2t−/− males produce very few recognizable spermatozoa, some of the spermatozoa produced are motile. This led us to ask whether these Cstf2t−/− sperm were fertile. A motile cell-enriched population of spermatozoa from Cstf2t-null males dispersed cumulus cells of cumulus-oocyte complexes normally. However, motile spermatozoa from Cstf2t-null males failed to fertilize cumulus-intact mouse eggs in vitro. In addition, sperm adhesion to the zona pellucida (ZP) of cumulus-free eggs was significantly decreased, indicating tauCstF-64 is required for production of spermatozoa capable of ZP interaction. Acrosomal proteins involved in sperm-ZP recognition, including zonadhesin, proacrosin, SPAM1/PH-20, and ZP3R/sp56, were normally distributed in the apical head of Cstf2t−/− spermatozoa. We conclude that tauCstF-64 is required not only for expression of genes involved in morphological differentiation of spermatids but also for genes having products that function during interaction of motile spermatozoa with eggs. To our knowledge, this is the first demonstration that a gene involved in polyadenylation has a negative consequence on sperm-ZP adhesion.
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Vol. 83 • No. 3