Patterns, mechanisms, and functions of translation regulation in mammalian spermatogenic cells

Cytogenet Genome Res. 2003;103(3-4):217-24. doi: 10.1159/000076807.


Translational regulation is a fundamental aspect of the atypical patterns of gene expression in mammalian meiotic and haploid spermatogenic cells. Every mRNA is at least partially translationally repressed in meiotic and haploid spermatogenic cells, but the extent of repression of individual mRNA species is regulated individually and varies greatly. Many mRNA species, such as protamine mRNAs, are stored in translationally repressed free-mRNPs in early haploid cells and translated actively in late haploid cells. However, translation does not regulate developmental expression of all mRNAs. Some mRNAs appear to be partially repressed for the entire period that the mRNA is expressed in meiotic and haploid cells, while other mRNAs, some of which are expressed at high levels, are almost totally inactivated in free-mRNPs and/or generate little or no protein. This distinctive phenomenon can be explained by the hypothesis that translational repression is used to prevent the potentionally deleterious effects of overproduction of proteins encoded by overexpressed mRNAs. Translational regulation also appears to be frequently altered by the widespread usage of alternative transcription start sites in spermatogenic cells. Many ubiquitously expressed genes generate novel transcripts in somatic spermatogenic cells containing elements, uORFs and secondary structure that are inhibitory to mRNA translation, while the ribosomal proten L32 mRNA lacks a repressive element that is present in somatic cells. Very little is known about the mechanisms that regulate mRNA translation in spermatogenic cells, largely because few labs have utilized in vivo genetic approaches, although there have been important insights into the repression and activation of protamine 1 mRNA, and the role of Y-box proteins and poly(A) lengthening in mRNA-specific translational activation mediated by the cytoplasmic poly(A) element binding protein and a testis-specific isoform of poly(A) polymerase. A very large literature by evolutionary biologists suggests that the atypical patterns of gene expression in spermatogenic cells are the consequence of the powerful and unusual selective pressures on male reproductive success.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • 3' Untranslated Regions
  • 5' Untranslated Regions
  • Animals
  • Gene Expression Regulation*
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Open Reading Frames
  • Peptide Chain Initiation, Translational
  • Protein Biosynthesis*
  • Repressor Proteins / metabolism
  • Spermatozoa / metabolism*


  • 3' Untranslated Regions
  • 5' Untranslated Regions
  • Repressor Proteins