Selenoprotein P (SEPP1), an extracellular glycoprotein of unknown function, is a unique member of the selenoprotein family that, depending on species, contains 10–17 selenocysteines in its primary structure; in contrast, all other family members contain a single selenocysteine residue. The SEPP1-null (Sepp1−/−) male but not the female mice are infertile, but the cellular basis of this male phenotype has not been defined. In this study, we demonstrate that mature spermatozoa of Sepp1−/− males display a specific set of flagellar structural defects that develop temporally during spermiogenesis and after testicular maturation in the epididymis. The flagellar defects include a development of a truncated mitochondrial sheath, an extrusion of a specific set of axonemal microtubules and outer dense fibers from the principal piece, and ultimately a hairpin-like bend formation at the midpiece-principal piece junction. The sperm defects found in Sepp1−/− males appear to be the same as those observed in wild-type (Sepp1 / ) males fed a low selenium diet. Supplementation of dietary selenium levels for Sepp1−/− males neither reverses the development of sperm defects nor restores fertility. These data demonstrate that SEPP1 is required for development of functional spermatozoa and indicate that it is an essential component of the selenium delivery pathway for developing germ cells.
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