In mice and humans, the production of male gametes is a result of a complex multistep process of stem cell differentiation. The final product, the mature spermatozoon, is designed for the safe delivery of a haploid copy of the paternal genetic information to the oocyte in a structural state suitable for zygote formation and embryogenesis. A remarkable structural reorganization of chromosomes in germline cells during mammalian spermatogenesis has been characterized. The most important steps are connected with the recombination events during meiosis and the final packaging of the haploid genome in the genetically inert, compacted nucleus of the sperm. Underlying the changes in chromatin organization is the appearance of testis-specific histones. Although the existence of such histones has been known for decades, their exact functions still are not established. Deciphering of the mouse and human genomes has allowed a more detailed description of the organization and regulation of the testis-specific histone genes. In addition, it has facilitated the discovery of previously unknown proteins. This review summarizes contemporary information on these germline-specific/enriched histones in both the mouse and human and outlines early achievements in the identification of their functions.
Copyright 2004 S. Karger AG, Basel