Epigenetic Regulation of Male Germ Cell Differentiation
Male germ cell differentiation is a complex developmental program that produces highly specialized mature spermatozoa capable of independent movement and fertilization of an egg. Germ cells are unique in their capability to generate new organisms, and extra caution has to be taken to secure the correct inheritance of genetic and epigenetic information. Male germ cells are epigenetically distinct from somatic cells and they undergo several important epigenetic transitions. In primordial germ cells (PGCs), epigenome is reprogrammed by genome-wide resetting of epigenetic marks, including the sex-specific imprinting of certain genes. Postnatal spermatogenesis is characterized by drastic chromatin rearrangements during meiotic recombination, sex chromosome silencing, and compaction of sperm nuclei, which is accomplished by replacing near to all histones by sperm-specific protamines. Small RNAs, including microRNAs (miRNAs), endogenous small interfering RNAs (endo-siRNAs) and PIWI-interacting RNAs (piRNAs) are also involved in the control of male gamete production. The activities of small RNAs in male germ cells are diverse, and include miRNA- and endo-siRNA-mediated posttranscriptional mRNA regulation and piRNA-driven transposon silencing and the control of DNA methylation in PGCs. In this chapter, we give a brief review on the epigenetic processes that govern chromatin organization and germline-specific gene expression in differentiating male germ cells.
KeywordsMale Germ Cell Round Spermatid Histone Variant Pachytene Spermatocyte PIWI Protein
Work in our laboratory is supported by research grants from the Academy of Finland and Emil Aaltonen Foundation. OM and MDR are supported by the Turku Doctoral Programme of Biomedical Sciences.
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