Sperm acrosome overgrowth and infertility in mice lacking chromosome 18 pachytene piRNA

PLoS Genet. 2021 Apr 8;17(4):e1009485. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1009485. eCollection 2021 Apr.


piRNAs are small non-coding RNAs required to maintain genome integrity and preserve RNA homeostasis during male gametogenesis. In murine adult testes, the highest levels of piRNAs are present in the pachytene stage of meiosis, but their mode of action and function remain incompletely understood. We previously reported that BTBD18 binds to 50 pachytene piRNA-producing loci. Here we show that spermatozoa in gene-edited mice lacking a BTBD18 targeted pachytene piRNA cluster on Chr18 have severe sperm head dysmorphology, poor motility, impaired acrosome exocytosis, zona pellucida penetration and are sterile. The mutant phenotype arises from aberrant formation of proacrosomal vesicles, distortion of the trans-Golgi network, and up-regulation of GOLGA2 transcripts and protein associated with acrosome dysgenesis. Collectively, our findings reveal central role of pachytene piRNAs in controlling spermiogenesis and male fertility.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Acrosome / pathology
  • Animals
  • Chromosomes / genetics
  • Humans
  • Infertility, Male / genetics*
  • Infertility, Male / pathology
  • Male
  • Meiosis / genetics
  • Mice
  • Pachytene Stage / genetics
  • RNA, Small Interfering / genetics*
  • Spermatids / growth & development
  • Spermatids / pathology
  • Spermatogenesis / genetics*
  • Spermatozoa / pathology*
  • Testis / growth & development
  • Testis / pathology


  • RNA, Small Interfering