Survival motor neuron (SMN) is ubiquitously expressed in many cell types and its encoding gene, survival motor neuron 1 gene (SMN1), is highly conserved in various species. SMN is involved in the assembly of RNA spliceosomes, which are important for pre-mRNA splicing. A severe neurogenic disease, spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), is caused by the loss or mutation of SMN1 that specifically occurred in humans. We previously reported that SMN plays roles in stem cell biology in addition to its roles in neuron development. In this study, we investigated whether SMN can improve the propagation of spermatogonia stem cells (SSCs) and facilitate the spermatogenesis process. In in vitro culture, SSCs obtained from SMA model mice showed decreased growth rate accompanied by significantly reduced expression of spermatogonia marker promyelocytic leukemia zinc finger (PLZF) compared to those from heterozygous and wild-type littermates; whereas SMN overexpressed SSCs showed enhanced cell proliferation and improved potency. In vivo, the superior ability of homing and complete performance in differentiating progeny was shown in SMN overexpressed SSCs in host seminiferous tubule of transplant experiments compared to control groups. To gain insights into the roles of SMN in clinical infertility, we derived human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs) from azoospermia patients (AZ-hiPSCs) and from healthy control (ct-hiPSCs). Despite the otherwise comparable levels of hallmark iPCS markers, lower expression level of SMN1 was found in AZ-hiPSCs compared with control hiPSCs during in vitro primordial germ cell like cells (PGCLCs) differentiation. On the other hand, overexpressing hSMN1 in AZ-hiPSCs led to increased level of pluripotent markers such as OCT4 and KLF4 during PGCLC differentiation. Our work reveal novel roles of SMN in mammalian spermatogenesis and suggest new therapeutic targets for azoospermia treatment.
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