In situ cryo-electron tomography reveals the asymmetric architecture of mammalian sperm axonemes

Zhen Chen, Garrett A. Greenan, Momoko Shiozaki, Yanxin Liu, Will M. Skinner, Xiaowei Zhao, Shumei Zhao, Rui Yan, Zhiheng Yu, Polina V. Lishko, David A. Agard, Ronald D. Vale

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations

Abstract

The flagella of mammalian sperm display non-planar, asymmetric beating, in contrast to the planar, symmetric beating of flagella from sea urchin sperm and unicellular organisms. The molecular basis of this difference is unclear. Here, we perform in situ cryo-electron tomography of mouse and human sperm, providing the highest-resolution structural information to date. Our subtomogram averages reveal mammalian sperm-specific protein complexes within the microtubules, the radial spokes and nexin–dynein regulatory complexes. The locations and structures of these complexes suggest potential roles in enhancing the mechanical strength of mammalian sperm axonemes and regulating dynein-based axonemal bending. Intriguingly, we find that each of the nine outer microtubule doublets is decorated with a distinct combination of sperm-specific complexes. We propose that this asymmetric distribution of proteins differentially regulates the sliding of each microtubule doublet and may underlie the asymmetric beating of mammalian sperm.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)360-369
Number of pages10
JournalNature Structural and Molecular Biology
Volume30
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 2023

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