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Biol Reprod. 2011 Sep;85(3):594-604. doi: 10.1095/biolreprod.110.088542. Epub 2011 May 4.

Mice lacking the USP2 deubiquitinating enzyme have severe male subfertility associated with defects in fertilization and sperm motility.

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Polypeptide Laboratory, Department of Medicine, McGill University and McGill University Health Centre, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.


The ubiquitin-proteasome system plays an important role in spermatogenesis. However, the functions of deubiquitinating enzymes in this process remain poorly characterized. We previously showed that the deubiquitinating enzyme USP2 is induced in late elongating spermatids. To identify its function, we generated mice lacking USP2. Usp2 -/- mice appeared normal, and the weights of major organs, including the testis, did not differ from wild type (Usp2 +/+). However, although the numbers of testicular spermatids and epididymal spermatozoa were normal in Usp2 -/- males, these animals had a severe defect in fertility, yielding only 12% as many offspring as Usp2 +/+ littermates. Spermatogenesis in Usp2 -/- mice was morphologically normal except for the presence of abnormal aggregations of elongating spermatids and formation of multinucleated cells in some tubules. The epididymal epithelium was morphologically normal in Usp2 -/- mice, but some abnormal cells other than sperm were present in the lumen. Usp2 -/- epididymal spermatozoa manifested normal motility when incubated in culture media, but rapidly became immotile when incubated in PBS in contrast to Usp2 +/+ spermatozoa, which largely maintained motility under this condition. Usp2 -/- and +/+ spermatozoa underwent acrosome reactions in vitro with similar frequency. In vitro fertilization assays demonstrated a severe defect in the ability of Usp2 -/- spermatozoa to fertilize eggs. This could be bypassed by intracytoplasmic sperm injection or removal of the zona pellucida, which resulted in fertilization rates similar to that of Usp2 +/+ mice. We demonstrate for the first time, using mouse transgenic approaches, a role for the ubiquitin system in fertilization.

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