Motor proteins and spermatogenesis

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Unlike the intermediate filament- and septin-based cytoskeletons which are apolar structures, the microtubule (MT) and actin cytoskeletons are polarized structures in mammalian cells and tissues including the testis, most notable in Sertoli cells. In the testis, these cytoskeletons that stretch across the epithelium of seminiferous tubules and lay perpendicular to the basement membrane of tunica propria serve as tracks for corresponding motor proteins to support cellular cargo transport. These cargoes include residual bodies, phagosomes, endocytic vesicles and most notably developing spermatocytes and haploid spermatids which lack the ultrastructures of motile cells (e.g., lamellipodia, filopodia). As such, these developing germ cells require the corresponding motor proteins to facilitate their transport across the seminiferous epithelium during the epithelial cycle of spermatogenesis. Due to the polarized natures of these cytoskeletons with distinctive plus (+) and minus (−) end, directional cargo transport can take place based on the use of corresponding actin- or MT-based motor proteins. These include the MT-based minus (−) end directed motor proteins: dyneins, and the plus (+) end directed motor proteins: kinesins, as well as the actin-based motor proteins: myosins, many of which are plus (+) end directed but a few are also minus (−) end directed motor proteins. Recent studies have shown that these motor proteins are essential to support spermatogenesis. In this review, we briefly summarize and evaluate these recent findings so that this information will serve as a helpful guide for future studies and for planning functional experiments to better understand their role mechanistically in supporting spermatogenesis.