The essential role of intraflagellar transport protein IFT81 in male mice spermiogenesis and fertility

Wei Qu, Shuo Yuan, Chao Quan, Qian Huang, Qi Zhou, Yitian Yap, Lin Shi, David Zhang, Tamia Guest, Wei Li, Siu Pok Yee, Ling Zhang, Caroline Cazin, Rex A. Hess, Pierre F. Ray, Zine Eddine Kherraf, Zhibing Zhang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Intraflagellar transport (IFT) is an evolutionarily conserved mechanism that is indispensable for the formation and maintenance of cilia and flagella; however, the implications and functions of IFT81 remain unknown. In this study, we disrupted IFT81 expression in male germ cells starting from the spermatocyte stage. As a result, homozygous mutant males were completely infertile and displayed abnormal sperm parameters. In addition to oligozoospermia, spermatozoa presented dysmorphic and nonfunctional flagella. Histological examination of testes from ho-mozygous mutant mice revealed abnormal spermiogenesis associated with sloughing of germ cells and the presence of numerous multinu-cleated giant germ cells (symblasts) in the lumen of seminiferous tubules and epididymis. Moreover, only few elongated spermatids and spermatozoa were seen in analyzed cross sections. Transmission electron microscopy showed a complete disorganization of the axon-eme and para-axonemal structures such as the mitochondrial sheath, fibrous sheath, and outer dense fibers. In addition, numerous vesicles that contain unassembled microtubules were observed within developing spermatids. Acrosome structure analysis showed normal appearance, thus excluding a crucial role of IFT81 in acrosome biogenesis. These observations showed that IFT81 is an important member of the IFT process during spermatogenesis and that its absence is associated with abnormal flagellum formation leading to male infertility. The expression levels of several IFT components in testes, including IFT20, IFT25, IFT27, IFT57, IFT74, and IFT88, but not IFT140, were significantly reduced in homozygous mutant mice. Overall, our study demonstrates that IFT81 plays an essential role during spermatogenesis by modulating the assembly and elongation of the sperm flagella.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)C1092-C1106
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Cell Physiology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2020


  • Ciliogenesis
  • Germ cell
  • IFT81
  • Male infertility

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Cell Biology


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