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Mol Hum Reprod. 2013 Jun;19(6):388-94. doi: 10.1093/molehr/gat008. Epub 2013 Jan 31.

UBE2B mRNA alterations are associated with severe oligozoospermia in infertile men.

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Department of OBGYN, School of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh, PA 15213, USA.


Oligozoospermia (low sperm count) is a common semen deficiency. However, to date, few genetic defects have been identified to cause this condition. Moreover, even fewer molecular genetic diagnostic tests are available for patients with oligozoospermia in the andrology clinic. Based on animal and gene expression studies of oligozoospermia, several molecular pathways may be disrupted in post-meiotic spermatozoa. One of the disrupted pathways is protein ubiquitination and cell apoptosis. A critical protein involved in this pathway is the ubiquitin-conjugating enzyme 2B, UBE2B. Absence of Ube2b in male mice causes spermatogenic meiotic disruption with increased apoptosis, leading to infertility. To examine the association between messenger RNA defects in UBE2B and severe oligozoospermia (0.1-10 × 10(6) cells/ml), sequencing of sperm cDNA in 326 oligozoospermic patients and 421 normozoospermic men was performed. mRNA alterations in UBE2B were identified in sperm in 4.6% (15 out of 326) of the oligozoospermic patients, but not found in control men, suggesting strong association between mRNA defects and oligozoospermia (χ(2) = 19, P = 0.0001). Identified UBE2B alterations include nine splicing, four missense and two nonsense alterations. The follow-up screen of corresponding DNA regions did not reveal causative DNA mutations, suggesting a post-transcriptional nature of identified defects. None of these variants were reported in the dbSNP database, although other splicing abnormalities with low level of expression were present in 11 out of 421 (2.6%) controls. Our findings suggest that two distinct molecular mechanisms, mRNA editing and splicing processing, are disrupted in oligozoospermia. We speculate that the contribution of post-transcriptional mRNA defects to oligozoospermia could be greater than previously anticipated.


UBE2B alterations; abnormal splicing; male infertility; oligozoospermia; post-transcriptional errors

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