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Gene. 2000 Sep 19;255(2):335-45.

Progressive inactivation of the haploid expressed gene for the sperm-specific endozepine-like peptide (ELP) through primate evolution.

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Institute for Hormone and Fertility Research, University of Hamburg, Grandweg 64, 22529, Hamburg, Germany.


The endozepine-like peptide (ELP) is a novel intracellular molecule which is expressed in high amounts at both mRNA and protein levels very specifically in late haploid male germ cells. It is closely related to the ubiquitous acyl-CoA binding protein, is highly conserved, shares a similar ability to bind mid-long chain acyl-CoA, and is thus likely to be involved in mature sperm metabolism. While it has been characterized from diverse mammals, it has so far not been possible to identify an equivalent molecule in the primate testis. Using a PCR approach, combined with cDNA cloning and Northern hybridization, testicular transcripts and/or genomic DNA were analysed for different primate species, including human. In the marmoset and cynomolgus macaque normally structured transcripts appear to be expressed, though at a low level. In the human testis, two rare transcripts were characterized, hELP1 and hELP2, the products of independent duplicated genes. Both transcripts were longer than in non-mammalian species, included frame-shift mutations and substantial sequence insertions, preventing the translation of a sensible protein. Genomic PCR analysis of three anthropoid species, chimpanzee, gorilla and orangutan, showed the presence of a similarly mutated hELP1 gene. Only in the gorilla was a hELP2 gene identified, apparently lacking the frame-shift mutation, and thus potentially able to give rise to a functional ELP protein. Taken together, these results show that during primate evolution there has been a progressive inactivation of the ELP gene, initially with a down-regulation in lower primates, and subsequently with inactivating mutations in the open reading frame. At some time during simian evolution prior to these mutations there has been a gene duplication, though this second gene has also become inactivated in humans. In its pattern of evolution the ELP gene shows similarities with the MDC/fertilin family, whose members are also considered essential components of haploid sperm in non-primates, but which are progressively inactivated in anthropoids and humans. We should like to speculate that the established subfertility of the human male may not be a recent event, but the consequence of a longer evolutionary process whereby primates have traded off absolute fertility against social or sexual advantages.

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