Differential cloning revealed a partial mRNA sequence expressed in the mouse testis, which on further molecular characterization proved to be a member of a new family of 14 transcribed genes. Six of the genes appear to be expressed pseudogenes. The remainder indicate an open reading frame of approximately 200–220 amino acids encoding proteins with a very high proportion of alpha helical secondary structure, comprising approximately 15% glutamate residues. Because of this property, the family has been named SPErm-associated glutamate (E)-Rich protein (SPEER). Three members were chosen for more detailed characterization: SPEER-1 (pseudogene), SPEER-2, and SPEER-4D. All three are expressed tissue specifically in the testis of mice, with only very weak expression evident in the rat testis but in no other species tested. Using reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR), all three transcripts can be detected also in the epididymis, presumably due to the presence of spermatozoa. All three transcripts are expressed to high levels in haploid germ cells at the spermatocyte-spermatid transition. SPEER-1 mRNA is present in the cytoplasm as a sense transcript, SPEER-2 appears to be made mostly as an antisense transcript, whereas SPEER-4D appears to be localized within a subcellular compartment as a conventional sense transcript. Codon usage analysis suggests that all but the pseudogenes can be expressed as protein, confirmed for SPEER-2 and SPEER-4D by in vitro transcription/translation. An antibody raised against a peptide region of SPEER-4D, which probably cross-reacts with other SPEER members, immunohistochemically stains the nuclei of early round spermatids. While there are no true homologies to other proteins in the genome databases, some motifs are present that suggest a relationship to nuclear matrix proteins, implying that the SPEER family is a new group of haploid sperm-specific nuclear factors.
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