Motile cilia of the male reproductive system require miR-34/miR-449 for development and function to generate luminal turbulence

Shuiqiao Yuan, Yue Liu, Hongying Peng, Chong Tang, Grant W. Hennig, Zhuqing Wang, Li Wang, Tian Yu, Rachel Klukovich, Ying Zhang, Huili Zheng, Chen Xu, Jingwen Wu, Rex A. Hess, Wei Yan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Cilia are cell-surface, microtubule-based organelles that project into extracellular space. Motile cilia are conserved throughout eukaryotes, and their beat induces the flow of fluid, relative to cell surfaces. In mammals, the coordinated beat of motile cilia provides highly specialized functions associated with the movement of luminal contents, as seen with metachronal waves transporting mucus in the respiratory tract. Motile cilia are also present in the male and female reproductive tracts. In the female, wave-like motions of oviductal cilia transport oocytes and embryos toward the uterus. A similar function has been assumed for motile cilia in efferent ductules of the male—i.e., to transport immotile sperm from rete testis into the epididymis. However, we report here that efferent ductal cilia in the male do not display a uniform wave-like beat to transport sperm solely in one direction, but rather exert a centripetal force on luminal fluids through whip-like beating with continual changes in direction, generating turbulence, which maintains immotile spermatozoa in suspension within the lumen. Genetic ablation of two miRNA clusters (miR-34b/c and -449a/b/c) led to failure in multiciliogenesis in murine efferent ductules due to dysregulation of numerous genes, and this mouse model allowed us to demonstrate that loss of efferent duct motile cilia causes sperm aggregation and agglutination, luminal obstruction, and sperm granulomas, which, in turn, induce back-pressure atrophy of the testis and ultimately male infertility.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3584-3593
Number of pages10
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number9
StatePublished - Feb 26 2019


  • Fluid resorption
  • Male infertility
  • MicroRNA
  • Multiciliogenesis
  • Reproductive tract

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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