Elucidating Gene Regulatory Mechanisms for Sperm Function Through the Integration of Classical and Systems Approaches in C. elegans

Tammy F. Wu
Bernadette Nera
Diana S. Chu
Diane C. Shakes, William & Mary


From worms to mammals, successful spermatogenesis depends on a gene expression profile that balances activating and repressive mechanisms. Besides developmental control of specific spermatogenic genes, male fertility requires temporal shifts in global gene expression and dramatic changes in chromatin structure and condensation. Recent studies are beginning to elucidate the molecular processes that both drive these temporal changes in gene expression and underlie fertility. In this review, we provide an overview of relevant C. elegans studies that have laid the groundwork for modern approaches. Next, we highlight recent studies that investigate how gene expression in C. elegans is modulated during spermatogenesis. These studies use large-scale genomic profiling in combination with bioinformatics, genetics, biochemistry, and in vitro methods to target specific stages or processes during sperm formation. Such studies are beginning to elucidate the multiple layers of gene regulation required during spermatogenesis, i.e., transcriptional, post-transcriptional, and epigenetic. Moreover, knowledge of how C. elegans coordinately regulates gene expression during spermatogenesis promises to provide key insights into parallel processes in mammals that are vital for fertility.