Biallelic Mutations in CFAP43 and CFAP44 Cause Male Infertility with Multiple Morphological Abnormalities of the Sperm Flagella

Am J Hum Genet. 2017 Jun 1;100(6):854-864. doi: 10.1016/j.ajhg.2017.04.012. Epub 2017 May 25.


Sperm motility is vital to human reproduction. Malformations of sperm flagella can cause male infertility. Men with multiple morphological abnormalities of the flagella (MMAF) have abnormal spermatozoa with absent, short, coiled, bent, and/or irregular-caliber flagella, which impair sperm motility. The known human MMAF-associated genes, such as DNAH1, only account for fewer than 45% of affected individuals. Pathogenic mechanisms in the genetically unexplained MMAF remain to be elucidated. Here, we conducted genetic analyses by using whole-exome sequencing and genome-wide comparative genomic hybridization microarrays in a multi-center cohort of 30 Han Chinese men affected by MMAF. Among them, 12 subjects could not be genetically explained by any known MMAF-associated genes. Intriguingly, we identified compound-heterozygous mutations in CFAP43 in three subjects and a homozygous frameshift mutation in CFAP44 in one subject. All of these recessive mutations were parentally inherited from heterozygous carriers but were absent in 984 individuals from three Han Chinese control populations. CFAP43 and CFAP44, encoding two cilia- and flagella-associated proteins (CFAPs), are specifically or preferentially expressed in the testis. Using CRISPR/Cas9 technology, we generated two knockout models each deficient in mouse ortholog Cfap43 or Cfap44. Notably, both Cfap43- and Cfap44-deficient male mice presented with MMAF phenotypes, whereas the corresponding female mice were fertile. Our experimental observations on human subjects and animal models strongly suggest that biallelic mutations in either CFAP43 or CFAP44 can cause sperm flagellar abnormalities and impair sperm motility. Further investigations on other CFAP-encoding genes in more genetically unexplained MMAF-affected individuals could uncover novel mechanisms underlying sperm flagellar formation.

Keywords: CFAP43; CFAP44; CFAP65; CGH; cilia; flagella; male infertility; motility; sequencing; sperm.

MeSH terms

  • Alleles*
  • Animals
  • Base Sequence
  • Cytoskeletal Proteins / genetics*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Humans
  • Infertility, Male / genetics*
  • Male
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mutation / genetics*
  • Phenotype
  • Semen / metabolism
  • Sperm Tail / pathology*
  • Sperm Tail / ultrastructure


  • Cytoskeletal Proteins