We exploited the rapid, inducible conversion of non-motile Ascaris spermatids into crawling spermatozoa to examine the pattern of assembly of the MSP motility apparatus that powers sperm locomotion. In live sperm, the first detectable motile activity is the extension of spikes and, later, blebs from the cell surface. However, examination of cells by EM revealed that the formation of surface protrusions is preceded by assembly of MSP filament tails on the membranous organelles in the peripheral cytoplasm. These organelle-associated filament meshworks assemble within 30 sec after induction of spermiogenesis and persist until the membranous organelles are sequestered into the cell body when the lamellipod extends. The filopodia-like spikes, which are packed with bundles of filaments, extend and retract rapidly but last only a few seconds before giving way to, or converting into, blebs. Coalescence of these blebs, each supported by a dense mesh of filaments, often initiates lamellipod extension, which culminates in the formation of the robust, dynamic MSP fiber complexes that generate sperm motility. The same membrane phosphoprotein that orchestrates assembly of the fiber complexes at the leading edge of the lamellipod of mature sperm is also found at all sites of filament assembly during spermiogenesis. The orderly progression of steps that leads to construction of a functional motility apparatus illustrates the precise spatio-temporal control of MSP filament assembly in the developing cell and highlights the remarkable similarity in organization and plasticity shared by the MSP cytoskeleton and the actin filament arrays in conventional crawling cells.
Copyright 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.