The sperm/oocyte decision in the hermaphrodite germline of Caenorhabditis elegans provides a powerful model for the characterization of stem cell fate specification and differentiation. The germline sex determination program that governs gamete fate has been well studied, but direct mediators of cell-type-specific transcription are largely unknown. We report the identification of spe-44 as a critical regulator of sperm gene expression. Deletion of spe-44 causes sperm-specific defects cytokinesis, cell cycle progression, and organelle assembly resulting in sterility. Expression of spe-44 correlates precisely with spermatogenesis and is regulated by the germline sex determination pathway. spe-44 is required for the appropriate expression of several hundred sperm-enriched genes. The SPE-44 protein is restricted to the sperm-producing germline where it localizes to the autosomes (which contain sperm genes) but is excluded from the transcriptionally silent. X chromosome (which does not). The orthologous gene in other Caenorhabditis species is similarly expressed in a sex-biased manner, and the protein likewise exhibits autosome-specific localization in developing sperm, strongly suggestive of an evolutionarily conserved role in sperm gene expression. Our analysis represents the first identification of a transcriptional regulator whose primary function is the control of gamete-type-specific transcription in this system.
Kulkarni, M., Shakes, D. C., Guevel, K., & Smith, H. E. (2012). SPE-44 implements sperm cell fate. PLoS genetics, 8(4), e1002678.