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Ni, Kai; Dansranjavin, Temuujin; Rogenhofer, Nina; Oeztuerk, Nihan; Deuker, Johanna; Bergmann, Martin; Schuppe, Hans-Christian; Wagenlehner, Florian; Weidner, Wolfgang; Steger, Klaus; Schagdarsurengin, Undraga (2016): TET enzymes are successively expressed during human spermatogenesis and their expression level is pivotal for male fertility. In: Human Reproduction, Vol. 31, No. 7: pp. 1411-1424
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STUDY QUESTION: Are ten-eleven-translocation (TET) 1-3 family enzymes involved in human spermatogenesis and do they impact male fertility? SUMMARY ANSWER: TET1, TET2 and TET3 are successively expressed at different stages of human spermatogenesis, and their expression levels associate with male fertility. WHAT IS KNOWN ALREADY: Spermatogenesis is a complex cell differentiation process accompanied by a drastic epigenetic remodeling. TET1-3 dioxygenases are essential for active DNA demethylation in the paternal pronucleus and in embryonic stem cells. STUDY DESIGN, SIZE, DURATION: Expression of TET1-3 mRNAs and proteinss and 5-hydroxymethylcytosine (5-hmC) proteins were analyzed in human testis tissues from men with obstructive azoospermia and exhibiting histologically normal spermatogenesis. Ejaculated spermatozoa from normozoospermic healthy volunteers, the 'controls' (TET1: n = 58;TET2-3: n = 63), and subfertile men who participated with their female partners in an ICSI-program, the 'patients' (TET1: n = 66;TET2-3: n = 64), were analyzed concerning the stored TET1-3 mRNAs, and the values were correlated to semen parameters and ICSI-outcomes. PARTICIPANTS/MATERIALS, SETTING, METHODS: Testis sections were used for in situ hybridization (ISH) and immunohistochemical (IHC) studies to determine TET1-3 mRNA and protein expression, and for immunofluorescence (IF) detection of 5-hmC. Sperm samples from controls were analyzed by western blot, immunocytochemistry (ICC) and RT-PCR concerning the presence of non-degraded TET1-3 protein and mRNA. Sperm samples from controls and patients were used for quantitative TET 1-3 mRNA analyses (reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction) and for comparative statistical evaluations under consideration of semen parameters and ICSI-outcome (pregnancy). MAIN RESULTS AND THE ROLE OF CHANCE: During human spermatogenesis TET1-3 proteins are successively expressed: TET2 is expressed in the cytoplasm of late pachytene spermatocytes of Stage V, TET1 starts to be expressed in the nuclei of Step 1 round spermatids at Stage I, and TET3 starts to be expressed in the nuclei of Step 3 round spermatids at Stage III. Five-hmC appears only in Step 5 elongated spermatids. All three TETs are still detectable at the mRNA and protein level in sperm cells in considerable amounts. Control men generally exhibited higher levels of TET1-3 in sperm. TET1- and TET3-mRNA levels in sperm were significantly negatively correlated with age (P = 0.0025 and P = 0.0343) and positively correlated with progressive sperm motility (P = 0.0007 and P = 0.018). All TETs showed a significant association with sperm concentration (P < 0.03). Patients diagnosed with oligozoospermia and/or asthenozoospermia (TET1: n = 35;TET2-3: n = 32) showed significantly reduced TET1-3 in sperm in comparison to controls (P = 0.003, P = 0.041 and P = 0.028), but not compared with normozoospermic patients. Levels of TET3 in sperm was significantly associated with high-fertilization rates (P = 0.009). Concerning ICSI-outcome, the lowest levels of TET1-3 mRNAs in sperm were found in the non-pregnant group. Increased TET2 in sperm was significantly associated with pregnancy (P = 0.006). LIMITATIONS, REASONS FOR CAUTION: Our results concerning the association of them RNA level of TETs in ejaculated sperm cells to different fertility parameters are descriptive. Further studies clarifying the reasons for decreased TET1-3 levels in subfertile men and their effect on their sperm methylome are essential. WIDER IMPLICATIONS OF THE FINDINGS: The study gives a substantial indication that in human spermiogenesis, an active DNA demethylation process occurs with an involvement of TET enzymes, and that the level of TET1-3 expression is pivotal for male fertility. STUDY FUNDING: Research grant from the German Research Foundation (DFG) to U.S. (SCHA1531/1-1 and SCHA1531/2-1). COMPETING INTEREST(s): None.