Use of spermatozoal mRNA profiles to study gene-environment interactions in human germ cells

J.O. Linschooten, F.J. van Schooten, A. Baumgartner, E. Cemeli, J. van Delft, D. Anderson, R.W. Godschalk*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


    Paternal exposure to genotoxic compounds is thought to contribute to diseases in their offspring. Therefore, it is of importance to develop biomarkers of male germ cell exposure to genotoxins. Unfortunately, the testis cannot be reached for routine biomonitoring, but mRNA-profiles in spermatozoa may reflect the processes that have occurred in the testis after exposures to genotoxins, since spermatozoa are largely transcriptionally inactive. Therefore, mRNA profiles from sperm in ejaculates of cigarette smokers (N=4) were compared with non-smokers (N= 4). Smoking behaviour was verified by assessing cotinine levels in seminal plasma. High expression of the germ cell specific gene protamine 2 (PRM2) was observed in spermatozoal mRNA isolates by Q-PCR, which was absent in reference mRNA isolates obtained from a pool of other organs. Gene-expression analysis was subsequently performed using microarray technology and a total of 781 genes were found to be differentially expressed in spermatozoa of smokers compared to non-smokers (fold change >40%; p < 0.05). To further limit the number of false positive results, genes were additionally selected on basis of the correlation between their expression levels with cotinine concentrations in seminal plasma (r > 0.80 as arbitrary cut-off value, p < 0.05), and a total of 200 transcripts remained, of which the germ cell specific transcription factor SALF was the highest up-regulated gene (5.4-fold) and the zinc finger encoding gene TRIM26 most down regulated (7.4-fold). Although no altered pathways could be identified for the differentially expressed genes, an enrichment was observed for NF-kappaB regulated genes (46% vs. 27%, p = 0.004) playing a central role in stress response. Accordingly, subsequent analysis of transcription factor networks suggests that apoptosis was inhibited in smokers. These data show the feasibility of using gene-expression profiles in mature sperm to elucidate gene-environment interactions in male testis.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)70-6
    JournalMutation Research-Fundamental and Molecular Mechanisms of Mutagenesis
    Issue number1-2
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2009

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