Protamines are the major DNA-binding proteins in the nucleus of sperm in most vertebrates and package the DNA in a volume less than 5% of a somatic cell nucleus. Many mammals have one protamine, but a few species, including humans and mice, have two. Here we use gene targeting to determine if the second protamine provides redundancy to an essential process, or if both protamines are necessary. We disrupted the coding sequence of one allele of either Prm1 or Prm2 in embryonic stem (ES) cells derived from 129-strain mice, and injected them into blastocysts from C57BL/6-strain mice. Male chimeras produced 129-genotype sperm with disrupted Prm1 or Prm2 alleles, but failed to sire offspring carrying the 129 genome. We also found that a decrease in the amount of either protamine disrupts nuclear formation, processing of protamine-2 and normal sperm function. Our studies show that both protamines are essential and that haploinsufficiency caused by a mutation in one allele of Prm1 or Prm2 prevents genetic transmission of both mutant and wild-type alleles.
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