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J Biol Chem. 2011 Aug 19;286(33):29108-17. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M111.244905. Epub 2011 Jun 24.

Impaired spermatogenesis and fertility in mice carrying a mutation in the Spink2 gene expressed predominantly in testes.

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  • 1School of Life Sciences, Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology, Gwangju 500-712, Korea.


Spermatogenesis is a complex process involving an intrinsic genetic program composed of germ cell-specific and -predominant genes. In this study, we investigated the mouse Spink2 (serine protease inhibitor Kazal-type 2) gene, which belongs to the SPINK family of proteins characterized by the presence of a Kazal-type serine protease inhibitor-pancreatic secretory trypsin inhibitor domain. We showed that recombinant mouse SPINK2 has trypsin-inhibitory activity. Distribution analyses revealed that Spink2 is transcribed strongly in the testis and weakly in the epididymis, but is not detected in other mouse tissues. Expression of Spink2 is specific to germ cells in the testis and is first evident at the pachytene spermatocyte stage. Immunoblot analyses demonstrated that SPINK2 protein is present in male germ cells at all developmental stages, including in testicular spermatogenic cells, testicular sperm, and mature sperm. To elucidate the functional role of SPINK2 in vivo, we generated mutant mice with diminished levels of SPINK2 using a gene trap mutagenesis approach. Mutant male mice exhibit significantly impaired fertility; further phenotypic analyses revealed that testicular integrity is disrupted, resulting in a reduction in sperm number. Moreover, we found that testes from mutant mice exhibit abnormal spermatogenesis and germ cell apoptosis accompanied by elevated serine protease activity. Our studies thus provide the first demonstration that SPINK2 is required for maintaining normal spermatogenesis and potentially regulates serine protease-mediated apoptosis in male germ cells.

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