Background: Findings from several studies support the conclusion that spermatozoa contain a complex repertoire of mRNAs. Even though these mRNAs are thought to provide an insight into past events of spermatogenesis, their complexity and function have yet to be established. Our aim was to determine whether we could use spermatozoal mRNAs to generate a genetic fingerprint of normal fertile men.
Methods: We used a suite of microarrays containing 27016 unique expressed sequence tags (ESTs) to investigate cDNAs from a pool of 19 testes, cDNAs from a pool of nine individual ejaculate spermatozoal mRNAs, and cDNAs constructed from spermatozoal mRNAs from a single ejaculate. We also used ontological data mining to determine the function of the genes identified in each EST profile.
Findings: The cDNAs from the testes, pooled ejaculate, and single ejaculate hybridised to 7157, 3281, and 2780 ESTs, respectively. The testicular population contained all of the ESTs identified by the cDNAs from the pooled and individual ejaculate. The pooled ejaculate population contained all but four ESTs identified from the individual ejaculate. A subset of the spermatozoal mRNAs was associated with embryo development.
Interpretation: The microarray data from testes and spermatozoa (pooled and individual) were concordant, supporting the view that a spermatozoal mRNA fingerprint can be obtained from normal fertile men. Thus, profiling can be used to monitor past events-ie, gene expression of spermatogenesis. Moreover, the data suggest that, in addition to delivering the paternal genome, spermatozoa provide the zygote with a unique suite of paternal mRNAs. Ejaculate spermatozoa can now be used as a non-invasive proxy for investigations of testis-specific infertility.