Defects in cellular metabolism have been widely implicated in causing male infertility, but there has been little progress in understanding the underlying mechanism. Here we report that several key metabolism genes are regulated in the testis by Rhox5, the founding member of a large X-linked homeobox gene cluster. Among these Rhox5-regulated genes are insulin 2 (Ins2), resistin (Retn), and adiponectin (Adipoq), all of which encode secreted proteins that have profound and wide-ranging effects on cellular metabolism. The ability of Rhox5 to regulate their levels in the testis has the potential to dictate metabolism locally in this organ, given the existence of the blood-testes barrier. We demonstrate that Ins2 is a direct target of Rhox5 in Sertoli cells, and we show that this regulation is physiologically significant, because Rhox5-null mice fail to up-regulate Ins2 expression during the first wave of spermatogenesis and have insulin-signaling defects. We identify other Rhox family members that induce Ins2 transcription, define protein domains and homeodomain amino acid residues crucial for this property, and demonstrate that this regulation is conserved. Rhox5-null mice also exhibit altered expression of other metabolism genes, including those encoding the master transcriptional regulators of metabolism, PPARG and PPARGC1A, as well as SCD1, the rate-limiting enzyme for fatty acid metabolism. These results, coupled with the known roles of RHOX5 and its target metabolism genes in spermatogenesis in vivo, lead us to propose a model in which RHOX5 is a central transcription factor that promotes the survival of male germ cells via its effects on cellular metabolism.
Keywords: Gene Regulation; Homeobox; Insulin; Sertoli Cells; Spermatogenesis; Testis.