In mature sperm the normal nucleosomal packaging of DNA found in somatic and meiotic cells is transformed into a highly condensed form of chromatin which consists mostly of nucleoprotamines. Although sperm DNA is highly condensed it is nevertheless packaged into a highly defined nuclear architecture which may be organized by the heterochromatic chromocenter. One major component of heterochromatin is the heterochromatin protein 1 which is involved in epigenetic gene silencing. In order to investigate the possible involvement of heterochromatin protein in higher order organization of sperm DNA we studied the localization of the murine homologue of heterochromatin protein 1, M31, during chromatin reorganization in male germ cell differentiation. Each cell type in the testis showed a unique distribution pattern of M31. Colocalization to the heterochromatic regions were found in Sertoli cells, in midstage pachytene spermatocytes, and in round spermatids in which M31 localizes to the centromeric chromocenter. M31 cannot be detected in elongated spermatids or mature spermatozoa immunocytologically, but could be detected in mature spermatozoa by Western blotting. We suggest that M31, a nuclear protein involved in the organization of chromatin architecture, is involved in higher order organization of sperm DNA.
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