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Mech Dev. 2001 Aug;106(1-2):3-23.

A possible meiotic function of the peculiar patterns of gene expression in mammalian spermatogenic cells.

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Department of Biology, University of Massachusetts Boston, Boston, MA 02125-3393, USA..


This review focuses on the striking differences in the patterns of transcription and translation in somatic and spermatogenic cells in mammals. In early haploid cells, mRNA translation evidently functions to restrict the synthesis of certain proteins, notably protamines, to transcriptionally inert late haploid cells. However, this does not explain why a substantial proportion of virtually all mRNA species are sequestered in translationally inactive free-messenger ribonucleoprotein particles (free-mRNPs) in meiotic cells, since most mRNAs undergo little or no increase in translational activity in transcriptionally active early haploid cells. In addition, most mRNAs in meiotic cells appear to be overexpressed because they are never fully loaded on polysomes and the levels of the corresponding protein are often much lower than the mRNA and are sometimes undetectable. A large number of genes are expressed at grossly higher levels in meiotic and/or early haploid spermatogenic cells than in somatic cells, yet they too are translated inefficiently. Many genes utilize alternative promoters in somatic and spermatogenic cells. Some of the resulting spermatogenic cell-altered transcripts (SCATs) encode proteins with novel functions, while others contain features in their 5'-UTRs, secondary structure or upstream reading frames, that are predicted to inhibit translation. This review proposes that the transcriptional machinery is modified to provide access to specific DNA sequences during meiosis, which leads to mRNA overexpression and creates a need for translational fine-tuning to prevent deleterious consequences of overproducing proteins.

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