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Sertoli cell specific knockdown of RAR-related orphan receptor (ROR) alpha at puberty reduces sperm count in rats

Mandal, Kamal, Sarkar, Rajesh K., Sen Sharma, Souvik, Jain, Ayushi, Majumdar, Subeer S.
Gene 2018 v.641 pp. 18-24
Sertoli cells, animal models, binding sites, gene expression regulation, genes, genetically modified organisms, hormones, men, promoter regions, puberty, rats, retinoic acid, seminiferous tubules, spermatogenesis, spermatozoa, transcription (genetics), transcription factors
Globally, there is an alarming decline in sperm count. Very often hormonal supplementation fails to restore normal sperm count. Sertoli cells (Sc) present within seminiferous tubules provide appropriate niche and factors required for the differentiation of germ cells (Gc) into mature sperm (spermatogenesis). Functionally compromised Sc may be one of the reasons for failure of hormones to facilitate normal spermatogenesis. Although role of secretory proteins and signaling molecules of Sc has been studied well, role of transcription factors regulating sperm count has not been addressed appropriately. Retinoic acid receptor-related orphan receptor (ROR)-alpha is one of such transcription factors reported in testis but its role in testicular function is not yet known. In a separate study, we found abundant ROR-alpha binding sites on promoter regions of several genes upregulated in pubertal rat Sc as compared to infant Sc. Immunostaining studies also revealed presence of ROR alpha in nucleus of pubertal Sc. We generated a transgenic knockdown rat model expressing shRNA targeted to ROR-alpha under Sc specific promoter, which is transcriptionally active only at and after puberty. ROR-alpha knockdown animals were found to have abnormal association of Sc and Gc, including Gc sloughing and restricted release of sperm. The knockdown animals displayed compromised spermatogenesis leading to significant reduction in sperm count. This is the first report describing the Sc specific role of ROR-alpha in maintaining quantitatively normal sperm output. Identification of various such molecules can generate avenues to limit or reverse an alarmingly declining sperm count witnessed globally in men.