The genetic etiologies of male infertility remain largely unknown. To identify genes potentially involved in spermatogenesis and male infertility, we performed genome-wide mutagenesis in mice with N-ethyl-N-nitrosourea and identified a line with dominant hypogonadism and patchy germ cell loss. Genomic mapping and DNA sequence analysis identified a novel heterozygous missense mutation in the kinase domain of Polo-like kinase 4 (Plk4), altering an isoleucine to asparagine at residue 242 (I242N). Genetic complementation studies using a gene trap line with disruption in the Plk4 locus confirmed that the putative Plk4 missense mutation was causative. Plk4 is known to be involved in centriole formation and cell cycle progression. However, a specific role in mammalian spermatogenesis has not been examined. PLK4 was highly expressed in the testes both pre- and postnatally. In the adult, PLK4 expression was first detected in stage VIII pachytene spermatocytes and was present through step 16 elongated spermatids. Because the homozygous Plk4I242N/I242Nmutation was embryonic lethal, all analyses were performed using the heterozygous Plk4+/I242Nmice. Testis size was reduced by 17%, and histology revealed discrete regions of germ cell loss, leaving only Sertoli cells in these defective tubules. Testis cord formation (embryonic day 13.5) was normal. Testis histology was also normal at postnatal day (P)1, but germ cell loss was detected at P10 and subsequent ages. We conclude that the I242N heterozygous mutation in PLK4 is causative for patchy germ cell loss beginning at P10, suggesting a role for PLK4 during the initiation of spermatogenesis.
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