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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Dual roles for ubiquitination in the processing of sperm organelles after fertilization

Connie Hajjar1, Katherine M Sampuda2 and Lynn Boyd2*

Author Affiliations

1 University of Alabama in Huntsville, Huntsville, AL, USA

2 Middle Tennessee State University, Murfreesboro, TN, USA

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BMC Developmental Biology 2014, 14:6  doi:10.1186/1471-213X-14-6

Published: 15 February 2014

Abstract

Background

The process of fertilization involves a cell fusion event between the sperm and oocyte. Although sperm contain mitochondria when they fuse with the oocyte, paternal mitochondrial genomes do not persist in offspring and, thus, mitochondrial inheritance is maternal in most animals. Recent evidence suggests that paternal mitochondria may be eliminated via autophagy after fertilization. In C. elegans, sperm-specific organelles called membraneous organelles (MO) cluster together with paternal mitochondria immediately after fertilization. These MOs but not the mitochondria become polyubiquitinated and associated with proteasomes. The current model for the elimination of paternal mitochondria in C. elegans is that ubiquitination of the MOs induces the formation of autophagosomes which also capture the mitochondria and cause their degradation.

Results

Sperm-derived mitochondria and MOs show a sharp decrease in number during the time between sperm-oocyte fusion and the onset of mitosis. During this time, paternal mitochondria remain closely clustered with the MOs. Two types of polyubiquitin chains are observed on the MOs: K48-linked ubiquitin chains which are known to lead to proteasomal degradation and K63-linked ubiquitin chains which have been linked to autophagy. K48-linked ubiquitin chains and proteasomes show up on MOs very soon after sperm-oocyte fusion. These are present on MOs for only a short period of time. Maternal proteasomes localize to MOs and sperm proteasomes localize to structures that are at the periphery of the MO cluster suggesting that these two proteasome populations may have different roles in degrading paternal material. K63-linked ubiquitin chains appear on MOs early and remain throughout the first several cell divisions.

Conclusions

Since there are two different types of polyubiquitin chains associated with sperm organelles and their timing differs, it suggests that ubiquitin has two or more roles in the processing of sperm components after fertilization. The K63 chains potentially provide a signal for autophagy of paternal organelles, whereas the K48 chains and proteasomes may be involved in degradation of specific proteins.