Low levels of PRSS37 protein in sperm are associated with many cases of unexplained male infertility

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PRSS37, a putative trypsin-like serine protease, is highly conserved during mammalian evolution as revealed by multiple sequence alignment. Mice deficient for Prss37 gene exhibit male infertility, but their mating behavior, spermatogenesis, sperm morphology, and motility remain unaffected, similar to a situation called unexplained male infertility (UMI) in men (human being). Here, we demonstrated that PRSS37 is restrictively expressed in human testis, where it is mainly located in the elongating and elongated spermatids during spermiogenesis as shown by immunohistochemical analysis of normal human testicular sections. In mature sperm, PRSS37 appears in the acrosome region and diminishes during acrosome reaction. Further examination reveals that PRSS37 contents in sperm from patients with UMI are dramatically lower than those in sperm from men with proven fertility or from sperm donors. Sperm with low PRSS37 contents exhibit abnormal activation of the proacrosin/acrosin system and premature proteolysis of ADAM2, which may impair the functional competence of human sperm in vivo. However, the in vitro fertilization outcomes of sperm with low PRSS37 contents are not affected. Together, these data implicate an important role of PRSS37 for male fertility. PRSS37 can be used as a potential molecular biomarker for evaluating sperm fertilization capability in vivo but not in vitro.

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