Spermatozoa are produced in the testis but gain their fertilizing ability during epididymal migration. This necessary step in sperm maturation includes posttranslational modification of sperm membrane proteins that includes protein processing by proteases. However, the molecular mechanism underpinning this epididymal sperm maturation remains unknown. In this study, we focused on transmembrane serine protease 12 (Tmprss12). Based on multi-tissue expression analysis by PCR, Tmprss12 was specifically expressed in the testis, and its expression started on day 10 postpartum, corresponding to the stage of zygotene spermatocytes. TMPRSS12 was detected in the acrosomal region of spermatozoa by immunostaining. To reveal the physiological function of TMPRSS12, we generated two knockout (KO) mouse lines using the CRISPR/Cas9 system. Both indel and large deletion lines were male sterile showing that TMPRSS12 is essential for male fertility. Although KO males exhibited normal spermatogenesis and sperm morphology, ejaculated spermatozoa failed to migrate from the uterus to the oviduct. Further analysis revealed that a disintegrin and metalloprotease 3 (ADAM3), an essential protein on the sperm membrane surface that is required for sperm migration, was disrupted in KO spermatozoa. Moreover, we found that KO spermatozoa showed reduced sperm motility via computer-assisted sperm analysis, resulting in a low fertilization rate in vitro. Taken together, these data indicate that TMPRSS12 has dual functions in regulating sperm motility and ADAM3-related sperm migration to the oviduct. Because Tmprss12 is conserved among mammals, including humans, our results may explain some genetic cases of idiopathic male infertility, and TMPRSS12 and its downstream cascade may be novel targets for contraception.
Keywords: CRISPR/Cas9; UTJ migration; fallopian tube; genome editing; knockout mice; male infertility; sperm motility.
© The Author(s) 2020. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of Society for the Study of Reproduction.