Spermatogenic differentiation requires progressive gene expression changes, and proteins required for this must be transported into the nucleus. Many of these contain a nuclear localization signal and are likely to be transported by importin protein family members, each of which recognizes and transports distinct cargo proteins. We hypothesized that importins, as modulators of protein nuclear access, would display distinct expression profiles during spermatogenesis, indicating their potential to regulate key steps in cellular differentiation. This was tested throughout testicular development in rodents. Real-time PCR analysis of postnatal mouse testes revealed changing expression levels of Knpb1 (encoding importin beta 1) and Ranbp5 (encoding beta 3) mRNAs, with Knpb1 highest at 26 days postpartum and Ranbp5 highest in Day 26 and adult testis. Their distinctive cellular expression patterns visualized using in situ hybridization and immunohistochemistry were identical in mouse and rat testes where examined. Within the seminiferous epithelium, Knpb1 mRNA and importin beta1 protein were detected within mitotic Sertoli and germ cells during fetal and early postnatal development, becoming restricted to spermatogonia and spermatocytes in adulthood. Importin beta 3 protein in fetal germ cells displayed a striking difference in intracellular localization between male and female gonads. In adult testes, Ranbp5 mRNA was detected in round spermatids and importin beta 3 protein in elongating spermatids. This is the first comprehensive in situ demonstration of developmentally regulated synthesis of nuclear transport components. The contrasting expression patterns of importins beta 1 and 3 identify them as candidates for regulating nuclear access of factors required for developmental switches.
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