Small RNAs Are Trafficked from the Epididymis to Developing Mammalian Sperm

Dev Cell. 2018 Aug 20;46(4):481-494.e6. doi: 10.1016/j.devcel.2018.06.023. Epub 2018 Jul 26.


The biogenesis of the RNA payload of mature sperm is of great interest, because RNAs delivered to the zygote at fertilization can affect early development. Here, we tested the hypothesis that small RNAs are trafficked to mammalian sperm during the process of post-testicular maturation in the epididymis. By characterizing small RNA dynamics during germ cell maturation in mice, we confirm and extend prior observations that sperm undergo a dramatic switch in the RNA payload from piRNAs to tRNA fragments (tRFs) upon exiting the testis and entering the epididymis. Small RNA delivery to sperm could be recapitulated in vitro by incubating testicular spermatozoa with caput epididymosomes. Finally, tissue-specific metabolic labeling of RNAs in intact mice definitively shows that mature sperm carry RNAs that were originally synthesized in the epididymal epithelium. These data demonstrate that soma-germline RNA transfer occurs in male mammals, most likely via vesicular transport from the epididymis to maturing sperm.

Keywords: epigenetics; small RNAs; spermatogenesis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Transport / genetics
  • Cell Movement / genetics*
  • Epididymis / growth & development*
  • Male
  • Mammals / metabolism
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • MicroRNAs / genetics*
  • Protein Transport / genetics
  • Sperm Maturation / genetics*
  • Spermatozoa / metabolism
  • Testis / metabolism


  • MicroRNAs