During spermiogenesis, histones are replaced first by transition proteins and then by protamines, resulting in a very condensed sperm DNA structure that is absolutely critical for normal sperm function. We have demonstrated previously that, despite a 9-wk recovery period, mature sperm from rats treated for 9 wk with bleomycin, etoposide, and cis-platinum (BEP), the drugs used to treat testicular cancer, have reduced levels of protamine 1 and a concomitant upregulation of specific histones, highlighting a problem in histone eviction. Here, we demonstrate that regulators of histone removal are increased in elongating spermatids following recovery; however, Ac-H4 and gammaH2AX histones remain elevated in elongating spermatids or caudal epididymal spermatozoa 9 wk post-BEP treatment. This indicates that chromatin remodelers and effector proteins that respond to histone removal cues may be a target of BEP treatment. A decrease in the expression of SMARCE1 in elongating spermatids may explain the persistent retention of histones in cauda epididymal sperm 9 wk after the cessation of BEP treatment. Remarkably, proteins implicated in the translational control and posttranslational processing of protamine 1 are also significantly elevated 9 wk post-BEP treatment, suggesting that histone eviction may dictate the DNA availability for protamine binding. Males mated to control females 9 wk after BEP treatment have reduced litter sizes; moreover, the profile of gene expression in the developing testes of their pups is altered. Altering the proportion of histones to protamine in mature spermatozoa has an adverse impact on male fecundity, with modifications to epigenetic marks potentially threatening normal progeny development.
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Vol. 89 • No. 4