During spermatogenesis, germ cells undergo mitotic and meiotic divisions to form haploid round spermatids which mature to functional elongated spermatozoa. During this process there occurs remodeling of cell structure and loss of most of the cytoplasm and a large fraction of cellular proteins. To evaluate the role of the ubiquitin proteolytic system in this protein loss, we measured levels of ubiquitinated proteins and rates of ubiquitin conjugation in extracts of testes from rats of different ages. Endogenous ubiquitin-protein conjugates increased till day 30 and then reached a plateau. In parallel, there was a progressive increase in the rate of conjugation of ubiquitin to proteins in testis extracts from these animals. To test the importance of two major ubiquitin conjugating enzyme families in the conjugation, immunoprecipitation of UBC2 or UBC4 from 10- and 30-day-old testis extracts was carried out and the remaining conjugation activity in supernatants was assayed. Depletion of either enzyme family resulted in decreased conjugation. However, most of the conjugation activity and, more importantly, the increased conjugation during development were UBC4-dependent. Immunocytochemistry demonstrated a marked increase in expression of UBC4 in spermatids, consistent with the UBC4-dependent activation of conjugation seen in vitro. In situ hybridization studies evaluated the contribution of various UBC4 isoforms to this induction. UBC4-1 mRNA was expressed in most cells. UBC4-2 mRNA was restricted to germ cells with high levels of expression in round and elongated spermatids. UBC4-testis had previously been shown to be expressed only in spermatids. Our data suggest that induction of various UBC4 isoforms activates overall conjugation and plays an important role in the cellular remodeling and protein loss occurring during spermatogenesis.
Copyright 1999 Academic Press.