STUDY QUESTION: What is the role of epididymal cysteine-rich secretory proteins (CRISPs) in male fertility? SUMMARY ANSWER: While epididymal CRISPs are not absolutely required for male fertility, they are required for optimal sperm function. WHAT IS KNOWN ALREADY: CRISPs are members of the CRISP, Antigen 5 and Pathogenesis related protein 1 (CAP) superfamily and are characterized by the presence of an N-terminal CAP domain and a C-terminal CRISP domain. CRISPs are highly enriched in the male reproductive tract of mammals, including in the epididymis. Within humans there is one epididymal CRISP, CRISP1, whereas in mice there are two, CRISP1 and CRISP4. STUDY DESIGN, SIZE, DURATION: In order to define the role of CRISPs within the epididymis, Crisp1 and Crisp4 knockout mouse lines were produced then interbred to produce Crisp1 and 4 double knockout (DKO) mice, wherein the expression of all epididymal CRISPs was ablated. Individual and DKO models were then assessed, relative to their own strain-specific wild type littermates for fertility, and sperm output and functional competence at young (10-12 weeks of age) and older ages (22-24 weeks). Crisp1 and 4 DKO and control mice were also compared for their ability to bind to the zona pellucida and achieve fertilization. PARTICIPANTS/MATERIALS, SETTING, METHODS: Knockout mouse production was achieved using modified embryonic stem cells and standard methods. The knockout of individual genes was confirmed at a mRNA (quantitative PCR) and protein (immunochemistry) level. Fertility was assessed using breeding experiments and a histological assessment of testes and epididymal tissue. Sperm functional competence was assessed using a computer assisted sperm analyser, induction of the acrosome reaction using progesterone followed by staining for acrosome contents, using immunochemical and western blotting to assess the ability of sperm to manifest tyrosine phosphorylation under capacitating conditions and using sperm-zona pellucida binding assays and IVF methods. A minimum of three biological replicates were used per assay and per genotype. MAIN RESULTS AND THE ROLE OF CHANCE: While epididymal CRISPs are not absolutely required for male fertility, their production results in enhanced sperm function and, depending on context, CRISP1 and CRISP4 act redundantly or autonomously. Specifically, CRISP1 is the most important CRISP in the establishment of normally motile sperm, whereas CRISP4 acts to enhance capacitation-associated tyrosine phosphorylation, and CRISP1 and CRISP4 act together to establish normal acrosome function. Both are required to achieve optimal sperm-egg interaction. The presence of immune infiltrates into the epididymis of older, but not younger, DKO animals also suggests epididymal CRISPs function to produce an immune privileged environment for maturing sperm within the epididymis. LIMITATIONS REASONS FOR CAUTION: Caution should be displayed in the translation of mouse-derived data into the human wherein the histology of the epididymis is someone what different. The mice used in the study were housed in a specific pathogen-free environment and were thus not exposed to the full range of environmental challenges experienced by wild mice or humans. As such, the role of CRISPs in the maintenance of an immune privileged environment, for example, may be understated. WIDER IMPLICATIONS OF THE FINDINGS: The combined deletion of Crisp1 and Crisp4 in mice is equivalent to the removal of all CRISP expression in humans. As such, these data suggest that mammalian CRISPs, including that in humans, function to enhance sperm function and thus male fertility. These data also suggest that in the presence of an environmental challenge, CRISPs help to maintain an immune privileged environment and thus, protect against immune-mediated male infertility. LARGE SCALE DATA: Not applicable. STUDY FUNDING AND COMPETING INTEREST(S): This study was funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council, the Victorian Cancer Agency and a scholarship from the Chinese Scholarship Council. The authors have no conflicts of interest to declare.
- Male fertility
- Male infertility