Male infertility in HR6B knockout mice is associated with impairment of spermatogenesis. The HR6B gene is a mammalian, autosomal homolog of the Saccharomyces cerevisiae gene Rad6 encoding a ubiquitin-conjugating enzyme. In addition, X-chromosomal HR6A has been identified, in human and mouse. RAD6 in yeast is required for a variety of cellular functions, including sporulation, DNA repair, and mutagenesis. Since RAD6 and its mammalian homologs can ubiquitinate histones in vitro, we have investigated the pattern of histone ubiquitination in mouse testis. By immunoblot and immunohistochemical analysis of wild-type mouse testis, a high amount of ubiquitinated H2A (uH2A) was detected in pachytene spermatocytes. This signal became undetectable in round spermatids, but then increased again during a relatively short developmental period, in elongating spermatids. No other ubiquitinated histones were observed. In the HR6B knockout mice, we failed to detect an overt defect in the overall pattern of histone ubiquitination. For somatic cell types, it has been shown that histone ubiquitination is associated with destabilization of nucleosomes, in relation to active gene transcription. Unexpectedly, the most intense uH2A signal in pachytene spermatocytes was detected in the sex body, an inactive nuclear structure that contains the heterochromatic X and Y chromosomes. The postmeiotic uH2A immunoexpression in elongating spermatids indicates that nucleosome destabilization induced by histone ubiquitination may play a facilitating role during histone-to-protamine replacement.
Copyright 1999 Academic Press.